“1%” is a charged figure.
When I see or hear “1%”, I automatically think of tremendous wealth and invincibility. But in the light of presidential budget season, “1%” is taking on a new meaning for me: it represents the poorest and the most fragile populations around the world. That’s because just 1% of the US national budget is spent on foreign aid. That includes development aid, political aid, emergency aid, and foreign security aid.
Are you surprised to hear that? I always assumed that about 10% of the budget went to such activities. A recent poll shows that my estimate was far below that of most Americans, who generally believe that up to 30% of the total US budget goes towards foreign aid (Kaiser Family Foundation).
Over 20 US government agencies fund or execute foreign aid activities. One of the primary agencies, USAID, shares the following mission:
To “partner to end extreme poverty and to promote resilient, democratic societies while advancing our security and prosperity.”
You could talk about foreign aid from multiple angles. I’m inclined to support it based on aspects of humanity alone, but since this is a blog about consumption, I’ll focus there.
95% of the worldwide population lives outside of the US. Many of these people are entrenched in poverty and poor health, unable to actively participate in a global economy. Strong patterns of trade and consumption in a globalized society require wealth, resiliency, and democratic societies for all partners involved.
I can’t believe I’m being so pragmatic about this, but again, for the sake of focus here… investing in peace and security, global health, and basic humanitarian assistance makes sense from a global consumption point-of-view because it protects future business partners. It protects (and quite frankly, creates) the global consumer class.
Foreign aid isn’t the best solution; strong economies and strong societies are. Foreign aid isn’t meant to be permanent, but rather something that helps us get to strong global societies. For the US, a society so driven by consumption (for better or worse, I won’t comment on that now), it seems like we would be eager to invest a mere 1% of our annual budget on building an atmosphere of healthy global production, trade, and consumption. You know, not to mention promoting a healthy humanity worldwide.
This article from Washington Post has some of the best explanatory graphics of the foreign aid budget breakdown, using 2016 numbers.