What do people think about foreign aid?

A viewer asked this question on 3/19/2000:

Hi! I am conducting a poll now about foreign aid policy. I'd like to know why people think the way they do about this issue. Any comments, suggestions, opinions, debates would be greatly appreciated.
Do you think Congress should hold firm on reducing foreign aid??? Why/why not?
-what do you believe to be the problem or objective of government action?

Congress will soon consider legislation to fund foreign assistance in fiscal year (FY) 2000. The House and Senate's approved measures to appropriate around $12.7 billion brought criticism from the Administration and the threat of a presidential veto. Yet many Members of Congress are deeply troubled that billions of dollars in foreign assistance to Bosnia and the Russian Federation have been stolen or siphoned off by corrupt political officials and are not reaching the targeted recipients--the citizens of these beleaguered countries. Before voting on the legislation that will come out of the conference committee, Members of Congress should consider putting in place strong oversight procedures and other checks and balances to ensure that no tax dollar in foreign aid is wasted.

-what do you think is an effective government action?

-If you have any proposed solutions, why do you think it is a good one, what evidence?

-Who else do you think would agree with you (experts in the field, interest groups, experts, etc.)

_What should congress do?

-Any rebuttals of important arguments against your proposals are welcome.

JesseGordon gave this response on 3/19/2000:

I'll answer what seem to me the most important aspect of your question, viz:

What is the objective of foreign aid? And why do people think the way they do about foreign aid?

I'll present answers from four political perspectives:

CONSERVATIVE: "We should spend foreign aid resources on assisting foreign governments which support US national interests."
During the Cold War, that meant supporting any government which was anti-Soviet Union, regardless of whether they were democracies or capitalist.
Post-Cold War, that means defining what US national interests are, and doling out foreign aid accordingly. The "security interest" argument would support aid, for example, to Russia (to avoid another Cold War); and to former Soviet republics & satellites (to move the Iron Curtain eastward, in case we fail with Russia).

LIBERAL: "We should spend foreign aid resources on fostering democracy and freedom abroad."
Rather than look at the world from a military perspective, this philosophy looks instead to the political bases - if we can get countries to become democracies, we won't have to fight wars with them. The "democracy building" argument would also support aid to Russia and Eastern Europe, but on grounds of assisting with building democratic institutions rather than on grounds of direct US security interests. This view would further include aid to nascent democracies like Indonesia on the same grounds, while the "security interest" argument would see little reason to spend money there since they don't affect our security.

POPULIST: "We should spend our resources on US problems instead of sending it abroad."
This philosophy sees foreign aid as a misuse of US resources. The US has more pressing domestic issues to deal with, and until those are solved, we should focus our resources here, according to this perspective.

LIBERTARIAN: "We should spend our resources on assisting people abroad, rather than on assisting governments."
There should be no such thing, for example, as "aid to Russia" in this perspective - but aid to the Russian PEOPLE is acceptable. In other words, leave the foreign governments out of the loop, and concentrate instead on funding projects via non-profit organizations, private projects in the target country, and other "grassroot" or direct actions.

Judging by your detailed list of "corruption" in foreign aid, I'd say you would support this last philosophy, so I'll explore it a little further, focusing on how to deal with the corruption issue.
The basic problem you discuss is that foreign aid funds sent to Bosnia & Russia are misappropriated by the local governments there. The source of this problem is that the aid goes to the local governments, which are corrupt, if your descriptions are at all accurate (and I agree that they are). The solution is for us to give the money to the people who we want to receive the money, instead of relying on some other government to do it for us. (I'm assuming here that aid to Russia and Bosnia is a good idea - disagreeing with that is discussed in the first section above).
There are a number of ways to supply foreign aid despite corruption:
-- We can set up direct aid from the US government to people abroad, as we do with the Peace Corps.
-- We can send US funds to international organizations which fund direct aid programs, as we do with UNICEF and other UN programs.
-- We can send US funds to non-profit organizations (NPOs) which work abroad, such as the Red Cross or Doctors Without Borders (the US government doesn't fund those directly; but we DO fund them via federal grants for particular projects via USAID and other federal programs).
-- We can create incentives for companies to invest abroad, such as we do with "Free Trade Zone" status for importing goods from Mexico and Chile.

The US government is not very good at avoiding corruption in foreign aid because we like dealing with foreign national governments. The same applies to the IMF. The UN and NPOs, on the other hand, ARE very good at avoiding governments and providing foreign aid directly to people abroad. This sort of non-government aid was used extensively in Bosnia, as well as in Rwanda and other African countries. I suggest you apply that to your arguments against wasting foreign aid due to corruption.

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