Foreign Aid: Feeding the Poor or Enabling Cleptocrats?



It is incredible how many Americans remain under the impression that it is “our duty” to provide foreign aid to underdeveloped nations. Yes, this idea makes us feel like the superhero country, out to rid the world of poverty, but unfortunately, there is a grand discrepancy between what people think aid is, and what it really is.

What Americans think about government aid:


Truman Library

So many people in this country believe that the US sends mostly medicine and food to our neighbors who need it most. They think aid is this handy dandy care package of goodies that falls directly in the hands of those struck by poverty.

The truth about government aid:


As illustrated in the picture above, the foreign aid that the United States sends to poor countries does not reach the people it needs to go to at all. How foreign aid works is the US sends aid, typically in the form of money, to countries, and their government is in charge of distributing the aid among its people.

In a utopian society where greed does not exist among men, foreign aid programs would indeed help developing nations. Unfortunately, we do not live in such a world. The United States gives out around 50 billion dollars a year in foreign aid, and most of it goes to Israel, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Egypt. Despite the billions received in aid, these countries have not improved economically, politically or socially, (some have gotten worse) so where is this money going? because it sure is not going to those who need it.

According to an article written by the Huffington Post, “The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) states that its function is to provide ‘economic, development and humanitarian assistance around the world in support of the foreign policy goals of the United States.'” By placing money in the hands of avaricious foreign rulers, the United States is only making these governments richer, and in turn, more powerful. This foreign aid, is being used by rulers in other countries to buy tanks, ammunition, and bigger houses for themselves, it has not made its way to the poor in the past, and it will not do so in the future.

In the video clip below, Economists Chris Coyne and John Stossel, further discuss the secondary effects of foreign aid, and how they “harm the very people they intend to help.” Coyne discusses what results when, “you inject millions if not billions of dollars of foreign aid in to an already corrupt, dysfunctional society.” That being said, it is crucial to note that these governments are poor for many reasons, but it typically boils down to greed, corruption, and mismanagement of resources. Thus what foreign aid is inherently doing is giving these countries more resources to mismanage, and is doing nothing to improve the conditions of the impoverished populations of said countries. So long as the United States continues to waste billions of tax dollars fattening the pockets of foreign rulers, the situations in those countries will only get worse.


Alright so foreign aid is obviously not the answer, so what is? How can we make a difference in the lives of poor people suffering in developing nations? Two things: direct aid and policy changes. Charities and mission trips that travel to these countries and provide people with food, medicine, and clothes not only help these people by providing immediate care, but it gives them a sense of hope. Unfortunately, direct aid alone cannot change the world, and many argue it causes people to become dependent on the aid, and in turn reducing any incentive they have to improve their situations. However, if the governments of these countries began to value property rights and allowed economic freedom to flourish, disease and poverty would become less prevalent in their society. Since we cannot change the policies of those nations, we can do our part by donating our time and money to charities that provide direct aid to the suffering peoples of said countries, and we can also create awareness of the secondary effects that arise from foreign aid as a result of corruption and greed.



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