A Fool & His Money Are Easily Parted
America’s generous and stupid for giving foreign aid.
We’re generous—and by “we” I mean the government, who’s taken it upon themselves to graciously give our money away on our behalf—because we gave away over $190 billion dollars last year in foreign aid.
That’s over $100 a month for every American taxpayer—you’re being taxed a huge amount to fund foreign governments.
We’re stupid because:
- The money went to corrupt, and occasionally evil despotic regimes or organizations.
- We have more than enough problems at home that could’ve used that money.
Show Me The Money: Where Does US Foreign Aid Go?
We let almost $200 billion slip through our fingers every year?
1. Basic Foreign Aid Funding
Last year we spent over $30 billion in foreign aid—the budget for 2017 is $34 billion.
What is foreign aid? Let’s get a definition down.
Ideally, the main purpose of foreign aid is to help people in developing countries: we give them money to build things like roads and schools, and everybody’s happy.
It’s like America’s ‘just think of the children’ fund.
But in reality it’s mostly a basket of money for “deplorables”.
And no, I’m not talking about your red-hat wearing average American patriot—I’m talking about countries with murderous dictators like Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, who evicted 300,000 white farmers from their homes, and murdered 20,000 of his own people in the Gukurahundi killings.
We’re giving him $160 million—yes it’s earmarked for Zimbabwe, but it’s a de facto dictatorship—Mugabe gets the cash. Period.
I guess that since he hasn’t committed genocide in a while we’ve forgiven him.
Who else gets money? Egypt. They get $1.3 billion.
I guess the fact that they democratically elected the Muslim Brotherhood wasn’t a big enough wake-up call. Perhaps we shouldn’t be injecting money and weapons into an already destabilized, and potentially hostile country.
Or maybe that’s exactly what we should be doing—the government things so after all.
They’re also giving $740 million to Pakistan—the nuclear-armed country where Osama Bin Laden hid out.
Afghanistan, bastion of human rights and honor killings, also gets $1.2 billion in funding.
The icing on the cake is Syria: they get $240 million in American foreign aid.
Where will that money go? Your guess is as good as the State Department’s.
Maybe Assad will get some, maybe the “moderate rebels”, maybe ISIS. Hard to say—the place is a total mess.
Those are just some of the most morally atrocious examples of countries that receive US foreign aid—there are others, believe me.
2. United Nations Operational Costs
America’s funding for the United Nations (UN) will cost us just over $5 billion in 2017.
I don’t have a lot to say about this one—at best it’s a giant waste of money that gives a voice to dictatorships like Saudi Arabia and Cuba; at worst it’s a dysfunctional and corrupt pseudo-government.
3. Defense & Military Subsidies For Our “Allies”
Here’s the big kahuna: the US spends $150 billion on foreign military bases every year, according to David Vine’s bestselling book Base Nation.
That’s a lot of money. Especially since a lot of it goes to defending wealthy places like Germany or Japan.
Japan, for example, is defended at a cost of $5.5 billion a year—Japan’s rich.
America’s South Korean bases cost us $2.2 billion a year—Korea’s rich.
Israel gets $3.1 billion a year in military subsidies—Israel’s rich.
They can afford to take care of themselves—or they could pay us to do it.
How stupid are we for subsidizing their security?
Lots of you may be miffed that I included Israel in this list. “They’re in a hostile region, they need our help,” you’re thinking.
I’m not convinced by that argument: if we didn’t pour money and military equipment into their potentially hostile neighbors like Egypt ($1.3 billion), Jordan ($1 billion), the Gaza Strip and the West Bank ($726 million), Syria ($240 million), and Iraq ($510 million), for a total of $3.78 billion, then Israel wouldn’t need our support.
If America’s goal is to maintain parity, we could do that by giving all sides nothing, rather than giving both sides over $3 billion.
Also, some of you may be think this isn’t technically “foreign aid”.
We’re literally aiding foreign states with money and military equipment.
Beyond the tautological argument: when America pays for Germany’s defense, this allows Germany to take the money they would otherwise spend on defense, and invest it on something else (like education).
Defending another nation promotes economic and social development indirectly.
Nation’s Shouldn’t Give Foreign Aid: the Evolution of Altruism & Group Preference
This may come as shock to some, but a nation only works if it’s accompanied by a little thing called nationalism.
No nationalism, no nation.
And I’m not talking about the waving flags and flipping burgers on the 4th of July kind of nationalism.
I mean real nationalism—which by definition means prioritizing your own citizens above those of other nations. Without this, the whole system falls apart.
Humans are social animals, and society is as much a product as evolution as it is conscious construction.
We not only evolved as individuals, but as groups, tribes—both the fittest individuals and the fittest groups survived and bred, out-competing weaker individuals and groups.
Group, or kin, selection has given us some of the most important human qualities: for example, altruism and compassion evolved in a group context.
Altruism is incredibly important: it greases society’s cogs and helps people get along, lowering social tension and violence. It maximizes everyone’s odds of survival (you get sick, someone cares for you etc.).
More importantly, it helps the group survive: a tribe that helps each other will defeat a collection of individuals—every time.
However, we can’t forget that altruism couldn’t have evolved without an in-group preference.
Altruistic acts only reliably confer a survival advantage at the individual-level if they are reciprocated, and at the group-level if they benefit the group as a whole—to the exclusion of other groups.
Why Nationalism? An Example
Pretend there are 4 groups on an island competing for limited resources:
Group A is altruistic and has an in-group preference (they like to help other A’s).
Group B is altruistic but lacks a group preference (they help anyone, regardless of tribal affiliation).
Group C is selfish and has an in-group preference (they don’t help each-other often).
Group D is selfish and lacks a group preference (they don’t help anyone often).
Furthermore, assume that all individuals are equally competent.
In a competition for scarce resources, both selfish groups will function about as well as a collection of individuals: the whole equals the sum of its parts.
Basically, group-preference isn’t all that important if you’re not working together anyways.
The interesting groups are those that are altruistic: the individuals help others survive.
Group A’s individuals only help each-other survive. This allows Group A to acquire additional resources from the other groups (using force of numbers etc.).
Eventually, they out-compete the others. Group A wins.
Group B fairs the worst. This is because their individuals help individuals from other tribes, benefiting everyone else at their expense (since it’s not reciprocated at the group level).
I’ve run simulations using these parameters, and have found that this is always the case (I’ll publish another article on this in the future).
The important point is that: A always wins, and B always does worst.
For a fuller discussion of the evolutionary science behind altruism and group selection, I recommend the work of Robert Trivers. His book The Folly of Fools is a good place to start.
The takeaway point here is that building a successful state, nation, or tribe isn’t about empowering the individual to the maximum possible degree: the group as a whole must be powerful—a cohesive competing tribe, or nation, will eventually out-compete a collection of even the strongest individuals.
The logic also dictates that the weakest possible configuration is to combine altruism and to lack an in-group preference, because this guarantees that resources will flow from your group to another, thereby diminishing your relative advantage and undermining your survival advantage—that’s America right now.
This is the real reason why foreign aid is bad: it is the definition of misdirected altruism.
It weakens America and empowers foreigners, thereby diminishing our relative advantage.
We need to start considering the practical results and the opportunity costs.
We need to put America first, and embrace national, not global altruism.
It’s not a moral question, it’s a factual question.
There’s no room for debate here: altruism must be paired with nationalism—anything other position is either ignorant of the facts, negligent, or deliberately hostile.
I’m With Stupid: What We Could Buy Instead
1. US Department of Veterans Affairs
We all agree that our veterans don’t get the medical or vocational rehabilitation they need—the US Department of Veterans Affairs is underfunded, plain and simple.
Right now, their budget is only $182 billion for 2017.
By redirecting the money we spend caring for other country’s people, we could double spending on our veterans—without raising any new taxes or cutting any services.
It’s all about allocating money effectively.
Our money should go to Americans first.
2. Helping the Homeless
Worst of all, it’s estimated that 49,933 of them are our own veterans.
These people are totally destitute, they live on the streets like the refugees everyone cares so much about—these are our countrymen.
If we’re going to give the money away, we should care for our own people first.
Here’s a fun fact: given that the median price to build a new home (2470 square feet) is $290,000, we could build every homeless person in America a brand new house for $145 billion—less than what we give away every year.
Of course this would be an asinine waste of money as well, but it really puts into context just how much money we’re giving away.
NASA needs money—their budget is only $19 billion a year.
We can’t even put an astronaut into space anymore, it’s a national disgrace (not to mention the fact that their mission has been completely redefined to focus on climate change, but that’s besides the point).
We could fund 10 NASAs for the cost of our ‘generosity’.
We’re On The Same Side
I don’t think this has to be a partisan issue.
I think we can compromise.
Most people want to help their fellow man—and they want the government to do it for them.
We’re left with a choice: we can either endlessly debate the role of government, which never seems to get us anywhere.
Or, we can focus on how to best allocate the money we’re currently spending.
It’s pretty hard to convince an ardent humanitarian that the government should be a faceless, impartial entity that’s unconcerned with human suffering—the argument falls on deaf ears.
It’s not going to work—hear that libertarians?
But, it’s pretty easy to convince that same person that we should spend the money helping our own huddled masses—especially given the dire conditions right here in America.
This ensures that people still “feel good”, while also promoting our national interests.