Foreign aid

Has the US abandoned its role as moral leader in the world today? At a time when many people and countries actually look to the US as a model, we seem to have chosen the low road on many issues.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has closely monitored foreign aid for years. They use the ratio of “official development assistance” to “gross national income” as a way to account for the different sizes of economies (for example, Iceland vs United Kingdom). They also distinguish between developing countries, such as Indonesia, whose GDP is almost as high as Austria’s, but can’t be expected to contribute nearly as much given its huge population and less developed economy.

Among developed countries, the average ratio is .41, that is, about four tenths of one percent of gross national income. Around 1980 the UN set seven tenths as a goal, but Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden are still the only countries to meet the target. Three other countries have given firm dates: Belgium by 2010; Ireland by 2007; and France by 2012. Norway is the most generous, at .92. There’s a wide range, with the US at the very bottom, .14. The US has made no pledge to reach the UN target, and as far as I can see, barely acknowledges it exists.

This is all on top of the facts that much aid is pledged but never delivered, 2/3 of US aid goes to just Egypt and Israel, much of the aid is tied to military needs or with strings to US companies, more money flows from poor to rich nations than the other way around, and first world trade subsidies dwarf even the seven tenths target.

I used to think that the US made up in private donations for what it failed to do officially. But the evidence I’ve seen says we do even worse in the private sector. Norwegians, for example, give at five times the rate Americans do.

Now, President Bush’s Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) proposal, actually works against sustainable development. it abandons the idea of helping people learn how to fish. Instead, it holds out fish to starving people in return for their compliance with US strategic and financial interests.

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