StanCollender'sCapitalGainsandGames Washington, Wall Street and Everything in Between

Why Fixing the Budget Is Hopeless

01 Dec 2010
Posted by Bruce Bartlett
American Public Opinion on Foreign Aid
November 30, 2010
Dates of Survey: November 6-15, 2010 Margin of Error: +/- 3.4%
Sample Size: 848
Just based on what you know, please tell me your hunch about what percentage of the federal budget goes to foreign aid. You can answer in fractions of percentage points as well as whole percentage points.
What do you think would be an appropriate percentage of the federal budget to go to foreign aid, if any?
Source: (November 30. 2010)
Note: In fiscal year 2009, bilateral foreign aid totaled $22.5 billion: 0.6 percent of federal outlays.


If only we had some institutions dedicated to informing the American public. Like ...organizations that educated us on what our government is doing. I guess it would function sort of like a fourth estate to keep our politicians honest and point out distortions. Hot damn I think I might be on to an idea.

I'm sorry I turn to sarcasm when depressed.

It is impossible to escape

It is impossible to escape the fact that a lot of the problems we're having as a society can directly be related to the lack of proper journalism. So much information, but so many uninformed people. It's a conundrum.

Point that finger, point it hard

It's the politicians' fault. No, the American people elect the politicians, so it's the American people's fault. No, the media is supposed to be keeping the public informed, so it's the media's fault. No, the American people choose the news they consume, it's the American people's fault.

For any given issue X, including foreign aid, a big part of what's wrong with X can be traced back to ordinary people, doing ordinary things, thinking ordinary thoughts, in the media, the government, barber shops, cafes, and so on. There are practical limits on how much awareness can be effectively raised about X, let alone Y, and Z, and A, and B, and C, and so on... that I start to feel...


I've seen that with progressives

Obama has more information on his website than any previous president; lots of good info about what he's done.

Yet, even on the sites where we should know better, there are a lot of people who are uninformed and wrong. During the 2008 campaign, the common attack was "What has Obama done?" So, I compiled a list. Several people have done this with his WH accomplishments.

Yet, even with the information available, many progressive sites keep saying that Obama has done nothing, which is very wrong.

People choose what they want to believe. What people choose seldom has little to do with the facts, but it seems to be more of an emotional issue.

its >2%

I guess its 1% to 1.5%

If it's 1.0%-1.5%, wouldn't

If it's 1.0%-1.5%, wouldn't that be <2%?

Say it again with me...

The popular programs are the most expensive.
The unpopular programs are a drop in the ocean.

Does nation building (war/defense/whatever term makes you feel better) count as foreign aid? I think so, and it just happens to be the biggest discretionary chunk.

I'd love to see a full

I'd love to see a full distribution on this - since half the survey answered that current spending was <25%, something's pushing that mean up awfully far...

If you consider the Defense Department foreign aid

25% is fairly close. In a sense, since the US could be safe with only a small fraction of current "defense" expenditures, our military is a form of foreign aid. Admittedly foreigners would mostly prefer we kept it, but that's just another reason for cutbacks.

To call military spending in

To call military spending in general "aid" is to distort the language a very great deal. We are not aiding Russia when we maintain a large capacity to go to war with Russia.

Military spending might be done partly in support of foreign policy, but that isn't the same thing as aid.

I see what both of you are

I see what both of you are saying and it's just that argument that I would expect people to make who don't believe the reality of the low number. Does the low number include all the military aid we give to Israel? to other countries? I'd like to see a statistic that includes absolutely EVERYTHING that could possibly be considered "foreign aid." It's like welfare.....people don't take seriously the low number from food stamps there either. What about Medicaid? Are there any other things that could be included there that would bump up the percentage? Housing subsidies if any?

Bombs Away

Are the bombs we drop on Yemen and Pakistan part of the foreign "aid" budget?

I was under the impression

I was under the impression that it was less than 1% of the budget. The exact figure I have in my head is .1%.

Either way, it's so tiny as to be irrelevant to any serious deficit/debt reduction plan.

The answer is right there is

The answer is right there is Bruce's post - 0.6 percent of federal outlays.

And we are surprised that people don't know...

"something's pushing that

"something's pushing that mean up awfully far"

Ignorance is pushing that mean up, nothing more. I wouldn't be surprised if the answers were clustered in the 20s. The average voter doesn't care about the deficit and will go to sleep if someone starts talking about it in detail. To the extent anyone is actually complaining about it, it's because there is talk of a expiration of the Bush tax cuts.

It's worse!

Not only is fixing the budget not possible in a sea of incorrect "knowledge", but the whole country is ungovernable for the same reason. You can't govern if the populace is moronic and uninformed. It's not possible in a democracy. What is even worse than all this, though, is that the population may be largely uneducable - unable to be educated to a level sufficient to evaluate the complexity of the choices before them. 100 years ago, the choices were much simpler. Today, the choices and tradeoffs are far more complex, and a smaller group of people is capable of understanding them. Human populations may simply not be smart enough overall to hold on to democracy.

Foreign Aid

It's a tiny percentage of overall outlays. This is a well-known fact in most of Europe (particularly in Holland), where people often criticize the fact that the US contributes relatively little to countries in need. Of course, this doesn't mean that Americans are not generous in giving when the need arises (e.g. Haiti); it just means that as a matter of policy, foreign aid amounts to very little (though not in absolute terms) and is generally much less than most Americans think!

Foreign Aid ?

Just to derail this comment thread: How much do Israel and Egypt get? What is the percentage of the total FA?

Israel gets about 1b$

Israel gets about 1b$ not too much!

That what you get when...

That kind of public ignorance is what you get when Republicans make big things out of very small things to win political points.

Here is one for you:

What percentage of the budget is considered true welfare payments for the poor?

The two largest welfare programs for the poor, AFDC and food stamps, each take up only 1 percent of the combined government budgets.

For all the political trash talking about welfare, it represents almost nothing of the budget.

Ever heard of Medicaid, Mr.

Ever heard of Medicaid, Mr. "Budget Wonk"?

They probably should ask the

They probably should ask the question in terms of GDP (What percentage of the GDP goes to foreign aid?)

That's because this is the figure most used in the media. So people might be more likely to know it (ha!). (And I don't know it, but I would guess 0.4 % of GDP.)

Putting the question this way would elide over federal and private aid, though. But I don't think the division of aid provided by different sectors is as important as the whole number.

The two largest welfare

The two largest welfare programs for the poor, AFDC and food stamps, each take up only 1 percent of the combined government budgets.

Err, AFDC's budget is zero, it was eliminated in 1996.

Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) was a federal assistance program in effect from 1935 to 1996, which was administered by the United States Department of Health and Human Services. This program provided financial assistance to children whose families had low or no income.

I stand correct...


I stand corrected.

My point remains that less than 2% of the budget goes to true welfare in this country, but given how much welfare is trashed by the right I am sure many would think it represented much more of government spending.

A dilgent media is useless ...

... when no one picks up a newspaper. We have a severely undereducated populace, because our education system is second-rate, because a certain political party doesn't want to invest in education. Democracy was never supposed to work under these circumstances, and it doesn't.

Rational Ignorance

It has nothing to do with uneducability or a lack of investment in education (indeed the numbers show a large investment in education with no results). Coming to correct decisions regarding these policy issues requires a large time investment to learn economic principles and then research the differing opinions and come to a conclusion based on your own interpretation. But since we encourage voting based on "civic duty," people who rationally choose to stay uninformed get satisfaction from voting, and so simply pick the side which seems right at first glance. This is why politics is geared toward embarassing the other party through vocabulary mistakes and making rousing speeches, because these things play on emotion and can therefore influence the average voter, whereas appeals to facts will not be understood and cannot.

An Australian website that

An Australian website that breaks down federal spending by category, though not by percentage:

don't know if any equivalent exists for the US.

US Foreign Aid is 0.19% of GDP

According to this article US Foreign Aid is 0.19% of GDP. In comparison, the UN Development Aid target is about 0.7% of a nation's GDP. Only Sweden and Norway have met this goal. Take a look at the slide show on the HuffPost article for that stats for other nations.

Based on this metric, Sweden, Norway and Denmark are the most generous, while the U.S., among the wealthy countries mentioned, is the least. However, the U.S. does, due to the size of its economy, give the most amount of money of any country, just not as a percentage of GDP. The U.N. target, which both Sweden and Norway exceed, is 0.7 percent of GDP as foreign aid; the U.S. currently gives 0.19 percent.

Foreign "aid"

In fiscal year 2009, bilateral foreign aid totaled $22.5 billion: 0.6 percent of federal outlays.

And, of course, a big chunk of that is for foreign military assistance (i.e. sales subsidies for U.S. defense contractors) and/or economic bribes to the Israelis and the Egyptians to not fight each other (still being paid, 33 years after they stopped fighting each other).

"In a democracy, people get the government they deserve"
Apocryphal, often attributed to De Toqueville

"Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard."
H.L. Mencken

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