The Costs of National Friendship

In his 1810 book Aphorisms on Man, Manners, Principles and Things*, Joseph Barlett pens the following on friendship between nations.

National friendship never existed. Interest
is the basis of all their connections.  So long
 as any nation's glory and resources are 
aided and advanced by another kingdom, 
so long, and no longer, will they be in amity.

This has been a guidepost for understanding other nations interests for centuries.  As long as the money is flowing, we are friends.  This is not to say "true" friends, but that is well understood.The country giving the aid is often reviled by the recipient at the population level.While the aid giving country is praised and revered at the national and diplomatic level, frequently the public citizen will say privately, "Those people are merely idiots with big money.They are dominating, insensitive, stealing from under us our beloved culture, and making us into them."

In the past several years, the foreign aid game has changed. Our country is now in a position that it continues to give massive aid to countries that openly revile us, that defy us, and that spare no effort to mislead and misdirect us. While making tepid lip-service of support and friendliness in our language they defile us in their own. Yet we continue with respect and deference, to aid countries that denounce us.  An obvious feedback loop is working; but questions are apparent. 

  • Has our country decided it is best to support the lessor of the evils? (Most generous explanation I can think of.)
  • Is our country's foreign policy and strength now so weak that no penalty for open defiance is perceived by aid recipients? 
  • Has our country designed other countries as "too big to fail," "to important to isolate," or something like that? The State Department uses code words "in our strategic interests."  There is merit here.
  • Are some of the recipient countries among those we simply want to help?  
  • Do the recipient countries sense they have something to bargain for continued largess and press the point through innuendo and threats?  Is their perception that we are merely paying for whatever services they might give?

While the effectiveness of foreign aid is actively debated, the United States continues to pump around $54 billion in aid to other countries each year.   The money to be pumped this year (FY2012) in FY2013 dollars is 32% higher than in FY2003.  ( Note, the increase is very far from linear, and happily, because of the budget crisis, Congress has restricted growth in the last four years, most specifically the last two.)   

Below is a list of the top 10** recipients for this fiscal year and those estimated for the next fiscal year.  How many of these countries are our friends?

Fiscal perspective.Just how much is $54b? Often, foreign aid is highlighted as a tiny fraction of the US Federal budget.  Maybe only 1-2%.  However, in terms of the fifty states***, it is greater than the annual expenditures of all states except California (~$87b) and NY (~$56b); amazingly, it amounts to about 8.2% of all state expenditures combined.  Moreover, arranged from smallest to largest, this amount exceeds the total state expenditures of the first seventeen states.

In the recent movie, Used Cars (1980), there is the perfect line, "It used to be when you bought a politician, they'd stay bought."  No longer.


Notes:

* This book is available free on Google Books. See at books.google.com

** State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs: FY2013 Budget and Appropriations, Congressional Research Service, www.crs.gov. See http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R42621.pdf  

*** The Fiscal Survey of States, A report by the National Governors Association and
the National Association of State Budget Officers, Spring 2011,  See, http://www.nga.org/files/live/sites/NGA/files/pdf/FSS1106.PDF



In his 1810 book Aphorisms on Man, Manners, Principles and Things*, Joseph Barlett pens the following on friendship between nations.

National friendship never existed. Interest
is the basis of all their connections.  So long
 as any nation's glory and resources are 
aided and advanced by another kingdom, 
so long, and no longer, will they be in amity.

This has been a guidepost for understanding other nations interests for centuries.  As long as the money is flowing, we are friends.  This is not to say "true" friends, but that is well understood.The country giving the aid is often reviled by the recipient at the population level.While the aid giving country is praised and revered at the national and diplomatic level, frequently the public citizen will say privately, "Those people are merely idiots with big money.They are dominating, insensitive, stealing from under us our beloved culture, and making us into them."

In the past several years, the foreign aid game has changed. Our country is now in a position that it continues to give massive aid to countries that openly revile us, that defy us, and that spare no effort to mislead and misdirect us. While making tepid lip-service of support and friendliness in our language they defile us in their own. Yet we continue with respect and deference, to aid countries that denounce us.  An obvious feedback loop is working; but questions are apparent. 

  • Has our country decided it is best to support the lessor of the evils? (Most generous explanation I can think of.)
  • Is our country's foreign policy and strength now so weak that no penalty for open defiance is perceived by aid recipients? 
  • Has our country designed other countries as "too big to fail," "to important to isolate," or something like that? The State Department uses code words "in our strategic interests."  There is merit here.
  • Are some of the recipient countries among those we simply want to help?  
  • Do the recipient countries sense they have something to bargain for continued largess and press the point through innuendo and threats?  Is their perception that we are merely paying for whatever services they might give?

While the effectiveness of foreign aid is actively debated, the United States continues to pump around $54 billion in aid to other countries each year.   The money to be pumped this year (FY2012) in FY2013 dollars is 32% higher than in FY2003.  ( Note, the increase is very far from linear, and happily, because of the budget crisis, Congress has restricted growth in the last four years, most specifically the last two.)   

Below is a list of the top 10** recipients for this fiscal year and those estimated for the next fiscal year.  How many of these countries are our friends?

Fiscal perspective.Just how much is $54b? Often, foreign aid is highlighted as a tiny fraction of the US Federal budget.  Maybe only 1-2%.  However, in terms of the fifty states***, it is greater than the annual expenditures of all states except California (~$87b) and NY (~$56b); amazingly, it amounts to about 8.2% of all state expenditures combined.  Moreover, arranged from smallest to largest, this amount exceeds the total state expenditures of the first seventeen states.

In the recent movie, Used Cars (1980), there is the perfect line, "It used to be when you bought a politician, they'd stay bought."  No longer.


Notes:

* This book is available free on Google Books. See at books.google.com

** State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs: FY2013 Budget and Appropriations, Congressional Research Service, www.crs.gov. See http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R42621.pdf  

*** The Fiscal Survey of States, A report by the National Governors Association and
the National Association of State Budget Officers, Spring 2011,  See, http://www.nga.org/files/live/sites/NGA/files/pdf/FSS1106.PDF



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