If you’re a “West Wing” watcher you know about Josh Lyman’s obsession around the polling for foreign aid.
“Of course foreign aid polls badly,” Josh says. “The people it’s helping aren’t the ones answering the phones….Respondents estimate foreign aid to be 15% of the federal budget. It’s one percent of the federal budget.” He keeps repeating the same statistics throughout the whole episode “68 percent say we spend too much on foreign aid. 59 percent want foreign aid cut.” He ultimately says it’s insane polling because “9 percent think it’s too high, and shouldn’t be cut! 9 percent of respondents could not fully get their arms around the question. There should be another box you can check for, ‘I have utterly no idea what you’re talking about. Please, God, don’t ask for my input.'”
While the show might be fictional, there is a lot based on truth. Foreign aid is less than one percent of the United States budget. When the Kaiser Family Foundation polled 1,505 people about the percentage, only 1 in 20 knew the right answer. The positive thing is that after the respondents were told that we only spent 1 percent on foreign aid, only 28 percent thought we were still spending too much. Most agreed we should be spending more.
But where does that money go? Check out this incredibly depressing map from by Raul Amoros:
Of the $35 billion total economic aid given globally in 2014, nearly one-quarter of the money went to just five countries.
Egypt: $1.5 billion
Afghanistan: $1.1 billion
Jordan: $1.0 billion
Pakistan: $933 million
According to the U.S. State Government 2013-2015 Foreign Assistance report, all of the money we gave to Israel went to military purposes. $1.3 billion of the total money given to Egypt went to military purposes as well. However, the majority of the funds sent to Afghanistan, Jordan, and Pakistan went to economic development.
Most times, economic aid goes to help develop communities, increase education and build good will. But the most important function is in economic development. The stronger communities are, the better jobs are for people, the more we see a reduction in crime, terrorism and drugs. We should work more to put our foreign aid into that instead of blowing it all on military.
Feature image via Raul Amoros.