20 April, 2005

Inductum Administratione: de Aggerando Auxilii Barbaribus

Here I make a very quick analysis of some points made by our current federal administration (that of George Walker Bush). All quotes and numbers come from http://cfrterrorism.org/policy/foreignaid.html

First, I combine two statements

"Do Americans understand how much of the U.S. budget goes to foreign aid?"

"No. A 2001 poll sponsored by the University of Maryland showed that most Americans think the United States spends about 24 percent of its annual budget on foreign aid—more than 24 times the actual figure."

"Do Americans support increasing foreign aid?"

"Yes. A University of Maryland poll, which was conducted in July 2002, indicated that 81 percent of Americans support increasing foreign-aid spending to fight terrorism. According to the poll’s findings, the typical American would like to spend $1 on foreign aid for every $3 spent on defense; the real ratio in the proposed budget for fiscal year 2003 is $1 on aid for every $19 spent on defense."

If Americans think we’re spending 24% and even that isn’t enough, certainly 1% can’t be anywhere near enough, right? I understand that the US is a republic, not a democracy. With that understanding comes an understanding that most Americans do not have an appreciation for the nuances of foreign politics, including foreign aid. Though leaders shouldn’t bow to every whim of the public (if they did, they wouldn’t be leaders, would they? See also Alexandre Ledru-Rollin: "There go my people. I must find out where they are going so I can lead them."), they should certainly listen to their constitutents (or else they can't be representative).

Then, a comparison to other nations

"How do U.S. aid levels compare with those of other contries?"

"The U.S. foreign-aid budget as a percentage of gross national product (GNP) ranks last among the world’s wealthiest countries (at about 0.1 percent). In raw dollars, however, the United States is now the world’s top donor of economic aid, although for more than a decade it was second to Japan, which is far smaller and has been beset by economic woes. In 2001, the United States gave $10.9 billion, Japan $9.7 billion, Germany $4.9 billion, the United Kingdom $4.7 billion, and France $4.3 billion. As a percentage of GNP, however, the top donors were Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Sweden. The tiny Netherlands (pop. 16.3 million) gave $3.2 billion in 2001—almost a third of what America contributed."

I don’t want Japan or Denmark to drive our foreign (or domestic) policy, but it’s always a good idea to see what your friends are doing.

Neither statement is conclusive, but they both suggest that the US should increase its current foreign aid spend.

Inductum Administratione: de Causibus Auxilii Barbaribus

At some point, I should like to write an essay on why no action is truly altruistic (short version: you wouldn't do it if you didn't feel good about doing it - there's your reward), but today I am going to discuss a specific action that has even more self-interest at heart: foreign aid. In this essay, I show that self preservation is one of the foremost reasons for offering such aid. I shall loosely follow the scientific method, brainstorming some possible reasons, then evaluating the probability of each being the primary reason for offering foreign aid. (inline note 1: see excerpts from "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" regarding the scientific method, or better yet, read the book) (inline note 2: it is not my purpose to say that offering foreign aid out of a sense of self preservation is morally superior or inferior to offering it out of a sense of equality. Or pity, for that matter. My object here is to address the likelihood of each underlying cause, not the value of the underlying cause.) (inline note 3: I specifically address the case of the United States of America offering foreign aid.)


  1. state the requirements for a motive to be considered
  2. brainstorm a list of possible motives
  3. evaluate each possible motive
  4. order the possible motives in terms of likelihood of importance

Step 1: state the requirements for a motive to be considered.

The motive must have a reasonable possibility in resulting in causing the US to provide foreign aid. By "The US," I mean the federal government of the United States of America. My reasons are as follows:
  • Individual states are prohibited from forming treaties with foreign governments. See The United States Constitution (USCON) I.10. This doesn't prohibit them from offering foreign aid, but it makes the necessary negotiations more difficult.
  • Individual states have less money than the US as a whole, and can thus make less of an impact on a foreign nation.
  • Even more so for individual people or corporations
  • Whereas the federal foreign aid budget for 2004 was $11.4B plus $4.3B in peacekeeping operations to improve foreign armed forces (see here). The foreign aid budget of Missouri during the same period was, as far as I can tell, $0.

Step 2: brainstorm a list of possible motives.

  • Pity
  • Desire for economic equality
  • Self preservation
  • Image improvement
  • Promote trade for our goods
  • Adherence to Judaic value of helping another when you are in good fortune
  • Adherence to Christian value of sacrificing for the sake of others
  • Promote good karma

Step 3: evaluate each possible motive.

At this point, I got bored. Maybe someone else can contribute to this essay. Mostly I just wanted to brainstorm...