Over half of the U.S. population believes that about 28 percent of the federal budget is dedicated to foreign aid. The reality is that the U.S. foreign affairs budget is only 1 percent of the national budget. What would it look like if these misguided beliefs were true?
In a study by the Kaiser Foundation, people were asked to define whether the U.S. spends too much, too little or about the right amount on foreign aid. Their answers were 61 percent, 13 percent and 18 percent, respectively. However, when they were asked to vote on the same question, after hearing that it was actually only close to 1 percent, their responses changed to 30 percent, 28 percent and 31 percent respectively.
The results imply that the average American has difficulty assessing a correct estimate of monetary allocation by the government, largely due to the large magnitudes of these sums. Let us consider this, the U.S. national budget for last year was $3.45 trillion, and at 1 percen,t the foreign aid budget comes up to $34.5 billion. For some, hearing that the U.S. spends billions of dollars on foreign aid, it is very unlikely they would place their estimate close to one percent.
While one can be frustrated by the gap between perception and reality, Dylan Matthews at The Washington Post, posed the question what if we actually allocated what people estimated on foreign aid spending? What if we spent 28 percent of the national budget on foreign aid?
Using the estimated 28 percent the average American believes is allocated to foreign aid spending, according to the Congressional Budget Office latest projection the 2015 national budget is to be close to $3.77 trillion, America would be putting approximately $1.1 trillion toward foreign aid, which translates into a foreign assistance budget of $1.1 trillion.
With this amount of money, the possibilities of foreign aid would essentially be limitless. It could be used to improve and expand upon current education and health programs. It could be allocated as cash transfers to those who need it the most, and to those with the ability to invest in their communities and generate economic growth.
A newly released study by The World Bank shows that when people are given cash directly, it is spent on things they actually need, more so than when it comes through foreign aid workers. Also this would be a good way to cut through the red tape and corruption in developing nations.
Coming back to reality, this theoretical course of action would be very unpopular, especially for those in public office. But perhaps, continuing to educate people about the facts of foreign aid would help create better awareness. At the very least, this thought experiment serves to remind Americans of the reality behind foreign aid investment.
– Sahar Abi Hassan