Wednesday, June 08, 2005

American Voters Not Well Informed;
Why US Foreign Policy Will Never Work

The Economist magazine informs us that we are not well informed:
Yet American voters believe they are absurdly generous. A 2001 poll showed that they think 24% of their federal budget goes on foreign aid, a figure that would amount to more than 4% of America’s GDP.
The actual amount is 0.2% of GDP.  A subset of conservatives sometimes will argue that this does not include the generous private donations for foreign aid.  That is true, but even if that is included, the US still ranks near the bottom, among developed nations.  

This is important because it is difficult to get political support for increases in foreign aid.  Admittedly, another impediment is the widespread perception that much foreign aid is lost to corruption.  That is true, too.

Our government has tried to address this.  In 2002, we came up with the Millennium Challenge Account.  I've written about his before.  The last time I wrote about it, I mentioned that the MCA had not disbursed any funds, after two years in operation.  Of course, part of the rationale for us to spend money on foreign aid is that it can improve our security.  Now, the BBC informs us that the MCA finally has gotten going.  Madagascar has gotten some money.  

That's a relief.  Now we don't have to worry about being overrun by ring-tailed lemurs.

The Millennium Challenge Account is one of the few concepts of the current Administration that I support.  It requires that countries have to demonstrate progress on, among other things, reduction in corruption.  Sounds great.  The only problem is, it does not go far enough.

You see, it bothers most people to see money go to foreign development when there is no development to show for it.  Yet somehow we keep funding development projects.  In the process, much of the money goes into the coffers of corrupt foreign leaders and their cronies.  That is what everyone gets worked up about.  The rest of the story rarely is told: some of that money goes to Americans who purport to be trying to help.  Those persons are perfectly happy to have us waste money on ineffectual aid.

Personally, I think it is a good idea to hold the foreign governments responsible for the proper application of aid funds.  However, I think it is equally important to hold US companies and NGOs to the same standard.  An international corporation that is involved in foreign aid currently has no incentive to see to it that the money is well spent.  Once they get paid for their work, they can take the money and leave.

Foreign aid will not be effective unless both the recipient country and the US organizations involved are held accountable for the success of the development projects.