Friday, December 3, 2010

America: Not As Generous As We Think

Quick, what percentage of the United States budget is spent on foreign aid?

If you answered less than one percent, you're correct (the actual amount is about .2%). You're also in the minority of people who know the facts about US foreign aid according to a new survey by Networks, which found that the median estimate of US foreign policy expenditures was a whopping 25% of the annual budget. Only 19% of the respondents were even close in saying that foreign aid made up less than 5% of the budget.

More surprisingly, when asked how much the United States should spend on foreign aid, the median response figure was 10%, a whopping fifty-fold increase over what the United States actually sends out in foreign assistance. That's interesting because whenever the topic of cutting the federal budget comes up, one item always put on the chopping block is foreign aid. The problem is that Americans are assuming that we're spending far more on foreign aid than we actually are. Education affected how much people though the US spent on foreign aid: those with less than a high school degree put foreign aid as a percentage of budget at an amazing 45%; high school grads said 25%; college-educated said 20%; and those with advanced degrees still gave an average total of 15%.

To put this in some perspective, Norway spends about 1% of its Gross National Income (GNI) on foreign aid; of course given the relative size of the economies, this is a fraction of the roughly $25 billion the US dispenses by giving away its .2%. Increase that to 10% of the US budget – the median amount that respondents thought was a fair amount to spend on aid – and suddenly you’re talking about $1.25 trillion.

One final fascinating note: when asked how much of the budget ideally should be spent on foreign aid, only 20% of those responding said 1% or less – the actual current amount.
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