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Almost half the world—over three billion people—live on less than $2.50 a day. The condition of humanity’s well-being is, in the aggregate, a story of poverty, suffering, and deprivation.
Sympathetic Americans have, to their credit, and due to their more affluent position resulting from their relative economic freedom and capitalist system, been a major factor in trying to correct this imbalance. A recent Hudson Institute study (PDF) notes that yearly private philanthropy from individuals in the United States of America stands at an impressive $37 billion.
Contrasted with government aid at $21.8 billion, we immediately can put to rest the erroneous assertion, often made, that people do not donate enough and government can do more. Indeed, as the study further shows, the aid offered by the government pales in comparison to the total financial flow from the USA to developing countries. When the $79 billion of yearly remittances (money transferred by individuals to their families/friends in another country) are factored in along with private investment in these countries, government aid accounts for only nine percent of the pie.
It is without question that the most effective, moral, and efficient method of improving the lives of suffering people the world over is to do so through the vehicle of private, individual, and non-governmental organizations and efforts. This type of aid gets into the hands of those in need, whereas government aid is notorious for enabling corrupt governments and further entrenching the elite establishment who maintains the impoverished class in their state of squalor.
More than 150 countries throughout the world receive government aid from our federal government, with Israel, Egypt, and Pakistan raking in the most money. On top of existing spending sprees, programs like the horribly mismanaged Millenium Challenge Account commit our taxpayer’s funds to whatever foreign governments certain bureaucrats deem worthy of its bestowal.
Consider the example of Haiti, where much of the world’s attention has focused in recent weeks. Approximately $2.6 billion in U.S. foreign aid has been diverted to this country in the past 25 years, and yet it remains the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. Two-thirds of Haitians lived on less then $2 per day before the earthquake, with that number likely being affected by how many have now been killed, displaced, and impoverished. How can this be, if foreign aid is indeed the answer to fixing such problems? (For comparison, it should be noted that Israel is given around this much each year, primarily used for purchasing weapons.)
As foreign aid obviously escalates following large disasters, voices in the proverbial wilderness are calling for the government to stay out of the humanitarian aid business. One example appears in the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal:
“Haiti needs a new version of the Marshall Plan—now,” writes Andres Oppenheimer in the Miami Herald, by way of complaining that the hundreds of millions currently being pledged are miserly. Economist Jeffrey Sachs proposes to spend between $10 and $15 billion dollars on a five-year development program. “The obvious way for Washington to cover this new funding,” he writes, “is by introducing special taxes on Wall Street bonuses.” In a New York Times op-ed, former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush profess to want to help Haiti “become its best.” Some job they did of that when they were actually in office.
All this works to salve the consciences of people whose dimly benign intention is to “do something.” It’s a potential bonanza for the misery professionals of aid agencies and NGOs, never mind that their livelihoods depend on the very poverty whose end they claim to seek. And it allows the Jeff Sachses of the world to preen as latter-day saints.
For actual Haitians, however, just about every conceivable aid scheme beyond immediate humanitarian relief will lead to more poverty, more corruption and less institutional capacity. It will benefit the well-connected at the expense of the truly needy, divert resources from where they are needed most, and crowd out local enterprise. And it will foster the very culture of dependence the country so desperately needs to break.
One Zambian woman has sung a similar strain of resistance to government “do-goodery” in a book titled Dead Aid, explaining why the constant foreign aid sent to Africa has been harmful. In an interview last year, the author responded to a question of what has held back Africans as follows:
I believe it’s largely aid. You get the corruption — historically, leaders have stolen the money without penalty — and you get the dependency, which kills entrepreneurship. You also disenfranchise African citizens, because the government is beholden to foreign donors and not accountable to its people.
While foreign aid is also used as a tool to intervene in the affairs of other nations, including Haiti, perhaps the most logical case to be made against our government’s involvement in this notoriously corrupt and inefficient enterprise is that they have absolutely no authority to do any of it. Despite their allegedly noble intentions, the federal overlords using our money however they desire have all broken their oaths to support and defend the Constitution by bailing out foreign governments and citizens. As stated here, the government is denied this power altogether:
The Constitution (including its Treaty Clause) was designed to accomplish–as to limiting the powers of the Federal government–what is contemplated with regard to all governments created by the people as their instruments: primarily to make and keep secure their God-given, unalienable rights (and the supporting rights, notably the right to property) according to the Declaration of Independence. It is a violation of this fundamental law of the people for the Federal government to deprive the people of their property by taxation in order to donate to foreign governments, or peoples, the funds thus obtained, or things purchased with these funds–whether or not sanctioned ostensibly by a treaty; that is, except to the extent that this is authorized by the words “common Defence” in the Constitution’s Taxing Clause: “provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States.” This means that any donation abroad of funds or things, military or any other kind, by the Federal government–in order to be authorized by the Constitution–must contribute substantially and directly to the “common Defence… of the United States,” meaning the national defense: the actual, military, physical defense of the American homeland. Under the Constitution as amended, Congress and the President completely lack any power to act the benevolent role abroad with the American people’s property–money or any other type. This is true as to all so-called “foreign aid”–whether military, economic or financial–however accomplished: by gift, or loan, or by any other device or method, and whether done openly, or by subterfuge. Individuals may, of course, give such aid out of their own property (money) as they please.
Foreign aid—government aid, that is—has failed, never yielding anywhere near the same results as aid donated, managed, and distributed by individuals and organizations operating voluntarily, charitably, and under the constraints of market forces. If a person truly wants to help another country or group of people, then their eyes should look not towards the government, but to their own wallet.