Saturday, July 15, 2006

How Things Work, Part 9 In the Series: Your Friend Jack

This seems like a good place to start:

"A recent poll by the Program for International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland showed that most Americans still imagine that 20 percent of the federal budget goes to foreign aid. In reality, less than 1 percent of the budget is for foreign aid, and only about one-third of that is development assistance.

U.S. development aid has declined steadily over the past 15 years. The U.S. now ranks last among the 22 industrialized countries in percentage of national income given away in development aid: less than 0.1 percent. Tiny Denmark contributes ten times as much of its national income as American taxpayers do. Japan has been the largest provider of official development assistance for ten consecutive years."

Most people in the United States overestimate the amount of money we as a country donate, or more properly spend on foreign aid. It's paltry.

"The proposal, advanced in a speech by President Bush, would effectively boost U.S. assistance to developing nations by about 14 percent over current levels of more than $11 billion a year. The increase, which would begin in fiscal 2004, is considerably less than the doubling that some aid advocates have urged rich countries to do."

$11 billion to developing countries. Not much. Sheesh. We spend $1.74 billion just on NBA salaries. And even then it gets worse, because the "aid" doesn't really help those in need, because they hardly ever receive it.

From a Der Spiegel interview with Kenyan economics expert James Shikwati:

"Shikwati: But it has to be the Kenyans themselves who help these people. When there's a drought in a region of Kenya, our corrupt politicians reflexively cry out for more help. This call then reaches the United Nations World Food Program -- which is a massive agency of apparatchiks who are in the absurd situation of, on the one hand, being dedicated to the fight against hunger while, on the other hand, being faced with unemployment were hunger actually eliminated. It's only natural that they willingly accept the plea for more help. And it's not uncommon that they demand a little more money than the respective African government originally requested. They then forward that request to their headquarters, and before long, several thousands tons of corn are shipped to Africa ...

SPIEGEL: ... corn that predominantly comes from highly-subsidized European and American farmers ...

Shikwati: ... and at some point, this corn ends up in the harbor of Mombasa. A portion of the corn often goes directly into the hands of unsrupulous politicians who then pass it on to their own tribe to boost their next election campaign. Another portion of the shipment ends up on the black market where the corn is dumped at extremely low prices. Local farmers may as well put down their hoes right away; no one can compete with the UN's World Food Program. And because the farmers go under in the face of this pressure, Kenya would have no reserves to draw on if there actually were a famine next year. It's a simple but fatal cycle."

That's the clincher. It's a cycle. "Foreign" aid really goes to subsidize American farmers. That's the point. The aid, when it doesn't end up in the hands of corrupt apparatchiks, gets cycled back to American industries.

That's what this letter writer just doesn't understand:

[snip] "how can the United States, carrying such a large budget deficit, continue to support foreign nations that despise us and regularly vote against us in the United Nations?

Let's take care of Americans first and then the rest of the world."

Alas, such is not the case. We are not going into debt to support foreign nations. Thanks to the strings attached, we are going into debt so deep that your great-grandchildren will still be facing it, all to stuff the coffers of the likes of ConAgra.

We are "taking care of our own." Our own rich corporations, that is.

Everybody else, including the letter writer, gets a boot upside the head; a boot named "Jack."

Non-governmental organizations are the way to go, if you really want to help, and I do. There are many, many people and organizations out there who do need a few of your bucks to do good things. Some are famous rock singers who wear bad sunglasses, and some are anonymously busy at that little church down the street.

It comes back buttered.

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