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More Aid Stuff

Daniel Drezner writes that the United States is about average on the stingy/generous scale, which is about my understanding. Now this leads to the dual questions of whether the rich world as a whole is as generous as it should be (I think not -- and it's especially the case that American trade policy is far more tilted against the interests of the global poor than it should be, and also the case that European and Japanese trade policy is far worse than America's) and of whether the US should aspire to be more generous than average. I think the best way to think about this latter question is in relation to military spending. The US has the largest economy in the world, driven by a large population (I think we're number three after India and China) and a very high per capita GDP. So it's natural that we'll have more military spending than any other state. But not only do we spend more than any other country, we spend a far higher proportion of our GDP on defense than does any other rich state.

We do this, for better or for worse, because there's a bipartisan consensus in this country that we ought to aspire to a role of global leadership. Perhaps we shouldn't so aspire (though I think we do), but realistically we do, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Either way, by whatever logic we should spend a larger-than-normal proportion of our economic output on the military in order to advance our role as a global leader, we also ought to spend a larger-than-normal proportion of economic output on foreign aid. Which is to say our government ought to do so, since private giving doesn't work well as a policy tool, even if all you want in exchange for your aid is to create warm and fuzzy feelings about the USA. The "billions for defense, not one cent for foreign aid" position only makes sense if you envision the military being used purely for the purpose of strict self-defense. That's clearly not the purpose of our military, however. It plays a self-defense role, but it's primarily a tool for geopolitical influence, giving us an ability to try and shape world events in a way that we think will be favorable to us. Aid spending, used properly, can also be such a tool. If we take our role as a global leader seriously (and according to the Pentagon budget, we do) we should take aid seriously as an element of that leadership.

Another way of thinking about this is suggested by Marshall Whittman. Love him or hate him, George W. Bush is undeniably a very successful politician. He's gotten elected twice, expanded his party's control of congress, and successfully passed a number of major legislative initiatives. He and his team are good at the communications game. But love him or hate him, George W. Bush has been spectacularly unsuccessful at making the United States of America liked -- or even tolerated -- across broad swathes of the world. If Bush and his team demonstrated some of the seriousness of purpose and competence they've repeatedly displayed in influencing US public opinion to influencing global public opinion, we'd be in much better shape. The second term wouldn't be too late a time to start.

December 30, 2004 | Permalink

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» Aid and Bush's World Appeal from Mads's Bookmarks
Matt (via Marshall Whittman) also says that Bush would do well to put some of his political skills to use on the international scene. Of this I am very sceptical for two reasons: [Read More]

Tracked on Dec 30, 2004 2:37:51 PM

» Sea surges kill thousands in Asia (undersea earthquake, tsunami) from I Love Everything
A few blog posts on aid issues: http://www.danieldrezner.com/archives/001805.html http://yglesias.typepad.com/matthew/2004/12/more_aid_stuff.html [Read More]

Tracked on Dec 30, 2004 2:57:40 PM

» Aid and Bush's World Appeal from Mads's Bookmarks
Two reasons why Bush's political skills don't carry over to world electorate (sorry - previous trackback got messed up). [Read More]

Tracked on Dec 30, 2004 8:37:24 PM

Comments

Isn't it true that Bush has greatly--140% or so--increased developpment aid?

Posted by: Creditor | Dec 30, 2004 1:08:32 PM

Either way, by whatever logic we should spend a larger-than-normal proportion of our economic output on the military in order to advance our role as a global leader, we also ought to spend a larger-than-normal proportion of economic output on foreign aid.


Why should we treat military spending the same as foreign aid?

Posted by: Al | Dec 30, 2004 1:20:27 PM

If Bush and his team demonstrated some of the seriousness of purpose and competence they've repeatedly displayed in influencing US public opinion to influencing global public opinion, we'd be in much better shape.

This sounds good, but to be blunt it's just wrong. The reason the Bush team is so good at swaying a large part of the American public--e.g. religious conservatives and miltary triumphalists--is because their message and agenda already matches the beliefs of those Americans. They'd do pretty well even without trying, but they also work hard and this gives them an overwhelming advantage.

Bush could try all he wanted and would not influence a significant minority of Americans let alone the rest of the world. Bush doesn't sound convincing for a second when he goes off the "heartland" message. He's smart enough to have figured this out, and usually doesn't even bother to try.

Media analyst Mark Crispin Miller had an interesting take on Bush's inarticulateness and noted that his best rhetorical moments occur when he's hammering on a theme he likes, such as baseball or punishing evildoers: it's not that he's stupid or can't speak, but that he usually just doesn't care enough to stay focused.

Now imagine a scenario in which Karl Rove is brought in to find the strategy for swaying the moderate Islamic world, or even the moderate secular world of Europe. Rove is a smart guy, but he has shown no particular talent for swaying Americans outside the red states. Under four years of Rove's political strategizing, even Arab Americans, previously a reliable segment of the GOP, have defected in large numbers. Do you honestly think this bunch would have more success outside the US?

Posted by: Paul Callahan | Dec 30, 2004 1:23:03 PM

Isn't it true that Bush has greatly--140% or so--increased developpment aid?

I believe that is based on counting reconstruction assistance in Iraq in the total, which while perhaps not entirely dishonest, is somewhat misleading.

Posted by: cmdicely | Dec 30, 2004 1:23:47 PM

I think there's no mystery as to why we're quicker to spend money on the military, than on foreign charity:

"And here comes in the question whether it is better to be loved rather than feared, or feared rather than loved. It might perhaps be answered that we should wish to be both; but since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved. For of men it may generally be affirmed, that they are thankless, fickle, false studious to avoid danger, greedy of gain, devoted to you while you are able to confer benefits upon them, and ready, as I said before, while danger is distant, to shed their blood, and sacrifice their property, their lives, and their children for you; but in the hour of need they turn against you. The Prince, therefore, who without otherwise securing himself builds wholly on their professions is undone. For the friendships which we buy with a price, and do not gain by greatness and nobility of character, though they be fairly earned are not made good, but fail us when we have occasion to use them." Niccolo Machiavelli, "The Prince".

While being loved would be nice, we can't make people love us, no matter how much money we spend. But we CAN make them fear us.

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Dec 30, 2004 1:36:37 PM

Brett -- I'm not saying that we should spend as much on development aid as we do on the military. That would be such a gigantic hike in development aid that one scarecely knows what it would go for. The point is that just as we aspire to dedicate a greater proportion of our resources to the military than do, say, the people of Italy, we should also dedicate a greater proportion of our resources to other foreign policy instruments -- the aid budget, public diplomacy, etc. It's all part of the global leadership package.NB: It is my understanding that Bush already has boosted foreign aid somewhat (leaving Iraq and tsunami issues aside) as part of the Millenium Development Plan or something. Historically, I think foreign aid does better under GOP presidents because they have an easier time plying it from the congress.

Posted by: Matthew Yglesias | Dec 30, 2004 1:41:23 PM

Global leadership? OK, I guess, however bad our leadership skills seem to be. Empire? No.

Posted by: janeboatler | Dec 30, 2004 1:44:02 PM

I think there's no mystery as to why we're quicker to spend money on the military, than on foreign charity

More likely than anything Machiavelli has to say, there are well-organized constituencies who benefit mightily from military spending, and nothing similar for foreign aid. Gotta trot out this old saw:
Q -- What's the most most effective weapons system?
A -- One with a subcontractor in every congressional district.

Posted by: sglover | Dec 30, 2004 1:45:27 PM

Why should we treat military spending the same as foreign aid? Posted by: Al

Because promoting health, education, and economic development goes a whole hell of a lot farther in promoting peaceful relations with 90% of the world than does threatening to destroy and/or occupy a country.

Isn't it true that Bush has greatly--140% or so--increased developpment aid? I believe that is based on counting reconstruction assistance in Iraq in the total, which while perhaps not entirely dishonest, is somewhat misleading.
Posted by: cmdicely

Oh, but it is entirely dishonest as most of the money expended so far on "rebuilding" Iraq has amounted to almost nothing. In fact, it's interesting how hot and bothered wingnuts get about the oil for food graft, but really can't be bothered with the level of "mismanagement" in Iraq that has resulted in pissing away something in the neighborhood of $100 billion to date. Oil for food didn't cost the U.S. a dime.

Posted by: Jeff I | Dec 30, 2004 1:51:56 PM

The problem is that the US does not aspire to a "role of global leadership" but to a "role of global hegemony". Leaders do not need to get more guns than anybody else combined, emperors do.

Posted by: Carlos | Dec 30, 2004 1:52:23 PM

He's gotten elected ONCE, dammit.

Posted by: Philboid Studge | Dec 30, 2004 1:53:03 PM

No, Philboid, by the laws of this nation, as they were in place on election day, he got elected twice. But let's not restart the perpetual "He stole the election by stopping us from stealing the election!" debate.

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Dec 30, 2004 1:58:57 PM

The premise is false. Bush squeaked in the first
time with 48%, he squeaked in the second time with
51% (though with our crappy election system I'm
more inclined to trust the exit polls, which he
lost). He won seats in the House mostly by
gerrymandering in Texas. He won seats in the
Senate, but with the over-representation of small
states that doesn't mean a thing.

Given his control of everything, his failure to
achieve any substantial increase in popularity
is striking.

Posted by: Richard Cownie | Dec 30, 2004 2:03:13 PM

Much as I agree with you Philboid & RC, I have to say . .can we please not ruin a contentful and potentially useful thread with an argument that will never be settled and for which there are no original comments?

This is a great, succinct post. I'm wondering about this:
Which is to say our government ought to do so, since private giving doesn't work well as a policy tool, even if all you want in exchange for your aid is to create warm and fuzzy feelings about the USA.

Actually, I wonder how either would necessarily work. Reading about this Tsunami and especially reading the tsunamihelp blog makes one realize how incredibly complicated relief work is. Short of sending clearly American stuff or having lots of American relief workers, there doesn't seem to be an effective way to "brand" our efforts--except, consistency and generosity. Consistency gives time for the knowledge that "this is American aid" to filter down through the social ecosystem and grow there. But it seems that our aid dole outs are so jerky and tied to weird, decidedly non-idealistic or moral policies, they don't have time to settle in societies and create a lasting, strong impression of American generosity.

Posted by: Saheli | Dec 30, 2004 2:38:31 PM

"He won seats in the House mostly by
gerrymandering in Texas."

Roughly counterballancing the gerrymandering of California in favor of Democrats. LOL

Well, I'm out of here, see ya next year!

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Dec 30, 2004 2:39:31 PM

OK, I'll stick to what is undeniable. In 2000
Bush lost the popular vote by 0.5M; in 2004, he
officially won the popular vote by a little under 3M.
In an electorate of about 200M, that means he
swung about 0.9% of the electorate in 4 years,
or roughly 0.23% each year.

Under our current political system, you can
accumulate political power with no noticeable
persuasion of the electorate. That's the problem
with it (plus the fact that you can control
the House, Senate, and White House without
having even a plurality of the popular vote in
any of them - I'm not sure if that's the case
now, but in 2001 it was certainly true of
the Senate and WH, and the House is now
astonishingly immune to vote swings)

Now take away the nationalist bias of the media
(e.g. estimated 100K dead Iraqis, but hardly
any pictures of them here), and the idea that
these guys can persuade Muslims of anything
is just laughable.

Posted by: Richard Cownie | Dec 30, 2004 4:40:01 PM

Or even persuade Australians, for god's sake. 49 percent disliked Bush in the last Roy Morgan poll I saw. Australia is his best shot, and he did get 46 percent approval. NOP in Britain showed 64 percent wishing closer ties with Europe. And in Canada? A recent poll showed that 50 percent of Canadians under 35 regard the United States as an evil nation. You get your wish, Brett Bellemore. People fear you and dislike you. See you as a "rogue" nation. Congratulations on your marvellous presence in the world.

Posted by: canuckiyani | Dec 30, 2004 9:38:48 PM

If there were a contract for Halliburton in it, we would probably increase aid 10 fold. Isn't inattention to Hurricane Andrew relief effort one of the things that sunk the old man Bush?

Don't Frat boys have contests to see who can raise the most money for charity? Where is our Frat Boy President's competitive nature?

Oops. Frat boys get other folk to donate their money to charity. They don't give their own. My bad.

Posted by: bakho | Dec 31, 2004 12:46:01 AM

Personally, Matt, I've long dismissed the whole Joe Nye "soft power" schtick as complete claptrap. But let's assume for a moment that I'm wrong, and that soft power is a real phenomenon. There remain two huge, unjustified leaps of logic, and one massive misapprehension, in your argument.

The misapprehension is your conflation of the means and the ends of power--hard or soft. There is absolutely no "bipartisan consensus in this country that we ought to aspire to a role of global leadership.". There is a bipartisan consensus that the US should aspire to the role of preeminent world power. To the extent that a role of global leadership confers power on America (i.e., to the extent that "soft power" is real), it is a consensus American goal. But leadership is a means, not an end, in the eyes of any self-respecting American statesman. (They differ on ultimate ends, of course--realists aiming for the furtherance of the national interest, and idealists aiming for some notion of the global good. But these are distinct from both the immediate end--power--and the means.)

You then jump from this (mistaken) assumption that world leadership is a consensus American goal to the claim that the US should be spending disproportionately on foreign aid, just as it spends disproportionately on its military to further its goal of military dominance. There are two assumptions hidden in this leap, and they are both ludicrously wrong.

The first is that military dominance (or "hard power") has (at best) no effect on American leadership (or "soft power"). In fact, there's every reason to believe that "hard power" increases "soft power". Certainly, accumulating "hard power" had a very positive effect on the "soft power" of nations like the Soviet Union and North Vietnam--not to mention terrorist organizations such as the PLO and Al Qaeda. (Also, taking your point that "hard power" needn't be military, the economic "hard power" of, say, China or Saudi Arabia has certainly enhanced their "soft power".) And it would be disingenuous not to concede that "hard power" greatly enhanced America's postwar "soft power", as well. It follows that greater spending on military "hard power" does not imply a need to spend even more on "soft power" leadership--on the contrary, it may well imply a reduced need to spend resources acquiring "soft power".

Your second huge, unjustified leap of logic is to assume that spending on foreign aid translates directly into leadership/"soft power". In fact, there's very little historical correlation between America's (or any other country's) foreign aid spending and its political "soft power". America's largest foreign aid beneficiary is Israel, where America is extremely popular--most probably for reasons that have little to do with the aid money. The second largest recipient is, of course, Egypt--a country where anti-Americanism is as great as it is in any other moderate North African country that receives much less in aid.

What, exactly, do you believe the enormous "soft power" dividends of Norway's remarkable per-GDP foreign aid generosity to be? Is Norway really a beacon of leadership for the world's poor peoples or nations? Does its relative national generosity--as opposed to its third-worldist, UN-activist politics--really garner it any additional respect on the world stage? Conversely, does Japan really get reduced to followership as a result of its apparent national stinginess?

Underlying your whole argument, I'm afraid, is a rather naive, antiquated vision: if Americans simply spread their dollars around the globe, in the spirit of universal harmony, then the happy peasants everywhere will gratefully applaud them, and give them free rein to order the world as they see fit. This was a popular idea ca. 1947, but it's kind of embarrassing to see a reasonably well-educated young man espousing it as we head into 2005.

Posted by: Dan Simon | Dec 31, 2004 2:08:37 AM

If we as liberals as Democrats decide to propose a sharp increase in foreign aid (1% of GDP?), a good way to sell it is by using the Chinese bogeyman. We will be competing with China for global leadership at some point, and "we could have helped you, but we just didn't wanna" isn't going to help us when we're trying to woo Africa from the Red Chinese. But first we have to actually propose an increase in foreign aid, no?

a relevant line from R. Porrofatto: "how you market your principles is important, but first you have to decide not to abandon them."

And while many of us have said the amount of tsunami relief money the federal government is giving is stingy, I haven't seen anybody suggest what *would* be an appropriate amount.

Posted by: roublen vesseau | Dec 31, 2004 7:38:16 AM

Matthew, I believe you are referring to the Millennium Challenge Account -- 5 billion dollars by 2006.

Posted by: Ruth | Jan 1, 2005 1:24:04 PM

It seems that, since the author opposes the USA on grounds of spending it resources to act as the global police officer to maintain peace and civility, and is opposed to American's tax policy that encourages private donations instead of government-directed programs ("since private giving does not work as an effective policy tool"), he would rather the United States be an occupying power in foreign nations by setting up a bureacracy to engage in "nation building" activities.

Rather than have the people of Iraq or Bolivia or Sierra Leone or Indonesia or wherever decide how their cities should be built and systems should be established. Rather than demand for accountability of our donations to corrupt African dictators, we should continue to have the United Nations dole out money to despots.

No. I don't buy it. The USA is the largest supplier of charitable giving prom private sources, as a result of our tax system and capitalist governemt. We spend a lot more on military than other areas of aid because of our legacy role in the world. Our economy would benefit tremendously if our resources could instead be used to invest in universities and research... but without a global enforcement, anarchy and terrorism would threaten the stability of capitalist and democratic institutions around the globe (NOT JUST IN THE USA).

Even if one accounts for all of these sources of international investment, the USA still does not measure up to the giving of nations like Norway... they are a much richer nation. Norway is an oil nation. Countries like Norway, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, etc. should be the countries that lead the world in GROSS international aid (not just as a percent of GDP)... they have multimegabucks.

Posted by: Joe | Aug 27, 2005 3:30:52 PM

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