It's Taking Me Moral Courage to Write This Topic

I know that people who after they read this post are totally going to hate me, but I hope you guys would understand. USA give millions of dollars to third-world countries, and what do we get in return? More countries that hate us, more trash-talk about Americans, and more debt in USA. In this website, it gives some of the countries that hate us. For example, there are many people in Pakistan, according to that article, that simply want to attack or even kill Americans. There have been many bomb blasts to hurt Americans.

Some of these countries hate us because America is such a dominant country that people can't stand it. However, some people hate us because they think that USA just can't keep their own business. All USA want to do is interefere with countries and go to war whenever they get a chance. The second statement, I do agree a little myself. Why do we constantly go to war, while other countries (even Europe) just do they own little thing?

By going to wars, it is not making some countries happy. At the same thing, we also lose lots of money. Another question is why after Afghanistan attacked USA, right after that incident we gave millions of dollars to them. We have also given millions of dollars to Iraq/Iran, and just lately in Africa. By giving millions to other countries, no wonder USA is in such a debt. If the government would just spend money on us, instead of in other countries, we would most likely not have seen recession, our exchange rate would have been stronger, and USA would have been stronger.

Man, I am scared that I am doing this post. Bring on the heat!


Dr. Tufte said...

Umm ... shouldn't you be scared of what I'm going to say about a post that has little ManEc content?

Anyway ... foreign aid numbers are in the billions for many countries, not millions.

Even so, foreign aid is a not a large component of government spending. So I wouldnt' worry about it on this end as contributing to the debt in a meaningful way. I also wouldn't make any great claims that if that money was spent "on us" that it would amount to a hill of beans. We're talking a few tens of billions of dollars in an economy that is producing that much GDP every day or two.

In a few other countries, yes, US foreign aid is often a good size chunk of the economy. And, I tend to agree that there doesn't seem to be much quality control on this spending.

I'm expressing an opinion in this paragraph, but I wonder how much of that is caused by the fact that the State Department is still dominated by blue-blood Ivy league types who are used to being rich, and throwing money at the poor to make them go away? Just wonderin' ...

I think it is a legitimate concern that we do interfere in the internal affairs of a lot of other countries, on an absolute scale. On a relative scale, I wouldn't claim that we do this more than other powers in the past, with respect to our position in the world.

Either way, there is a moral problem here. If you are a functional and successful person, are you obligated to interfere in the affairs of other households if they are disfunctional and unsuccessful in a way that has externalities (e.g., child abuse)? If you think you are, then it is a natural extension to think that the functional and successful countries ought to act the same way. We see this in Darfur right now - are we morally obligated to do something about that? I'm not sure that question has a right answer, but I do think it is incorrect to let our recent experiences in Iraq influence our choice. This sort of decision isn't really about the likely success of such interference; I think a lot of people end up with clouded judgements by making it so. To me, it's either the right thing to do and you do the best you can, or it's the wrong thing to do and you should be smart enough to stay out of it.

A history lesson is also worthwhile here. The idea that national governments can do what they want inside their own borders without interference from other powers goes back to the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. This evolved out of a century of religious wars between Catholics and Protestants about how much power sovereigns had to enforce choices on their subjects, and whether it was obligatory on the part of their neighbors to interfere if there was cause. In the U.S. we tend to be fairly ignorant of that sort of precedent. It worked OK for a few hundred years until apologists used in the 20th century to argue that Hitler and Stalin could do what they wanted to their own citizens. Then some people realized that it wasn't working out quite the way they'd expected.

Lastly, to completely turn this argument around, Landsburg has argued (correctly, I might add) that individuals should choose and support only one charity. His reasoning is that 1) you are capable of judging the one that is most needy, and 2) your marginal contributions are not large enough to change that ordering. His point is that our habit of spreading our charity around makes us feel better, at the expense of the neediest people who we could help the most. Extending that position to the domain of foreign aid suggests that the U.S. gives foreign aid to a large number of countries to make ourselves feel powerful and in control. Perhaps we'd be better off focusing our attention on a single case that we can help along. I think the successes of 1) Puerto Rico versus Cuba and the Dominican Republic, 2) the canal zone versus Panama, 3) Guam versus the rest of the trust territory, 4) and American Samoa versus other Polynesian islands, supports this view.

What was that I was saying about getting off the ManEc topic? ;)>

binoculars said...

Dr. Tufte made a really good point. But don't you think spending (charity) billions of dollars in other countries is hurting America? Our economy here in USA would have been stronger, and the exchange rate would have been better if it was not for all this charity. Instead of that, if we could get an increase in income or more grant from the government (like stimulus package), we could spend more on elastic durable goods, which would make our market stronger :) - some managerial economics :P.

Gavin said...

Extra Credit - Dr. Tufte
I agree with your point that we should support one charity. America would be best served if we would focus on a few of the world's extreme needs. We employ economic principles to understand and create value. Helping others is a unique exchange that returns a greater value than the cost.

binoculars said...

Dr. Tufte and Gavin both made good points - after I read an article, the reason we donate huge amount of money is because it boosts our ego, and it makes America more powerful in the face of the world. However, the money that we seem to be spending is not working in other countries. The government in those third-world countries are spending it unwisely and it is not helping its people.

William said...

Dr. Tufte,
I think that you make a very valid claim. I think that spending money on foreign aid is minor and would not have nearly the effect that many would think it would if we stopped doing it.

Also I think that it is important that the US get involved with foreign affairs. Look at WWII, it was imperative that the US get involved. I think things would have been greatly different if we would not have gotten involved. We can't close ourselves off from the rest of the world. We must be knowledgeable about what is going on and if needed get involved.

However, we (the US) should not be foolish and just get involved for the sake of getting involved. I think it is important that we correctly evaluate the situation and look at what advantages and costs that would occur if we did get involved.

I disagree a little with you Dr. Tufte. I can see the point of not getting involved in many charities and instead only focusing on one. However I think that if there may be two charities that are very precedent and need immediate help from us I don't think we should say, "Oh well we can only choose one because that is our limit." I think instead that if there are two prominent issues that both need our help we should help them and not be limited. It seems to me to be just the same as the government putting a limit on something. We are taught that restrictions are not good. I do agree although that we shouldn't get too involved and spread ourselves too thin. But if needed, I feel that we should be able to help more than one cause.

Jacques said...

Dr. Tufte--I like the Landsburgism pointed out by Dr. Tufte with respect to charitable contributions. For someone like myself, I agree it is certainly valid that my marginal donation would not be enough to merit spreading across several different charities; however, for a country like the US or a man like Warren Buffet, the forthcoming contributions would certainly be significant to the point that several different recipients would be much obliged. Also, it might cause a diplomatic crisis if the US were to dump the sum total of all its foreign aid to Israel, our favorite strategic ally.

TheFindlay said...

Dr. Tufte
I have to say that even with your opening criticism this is the longest and most in-depth comment you have made during our class. I agree with most of your points. I think the whole “Ivy League” is a little exaggerated when it comes to spending our nation’s money. “To me, it's either the right thing to do and you do the best you can, or it's the wrong thing to do and you should be smart enough to stay out of it.” I think this statement sums up my opinion on the matter.

Dr. Tufte said...

-1 on William for poor grammar.

I'm glad I stimulated some thought on this.

daniel said...

This is fascinating.
I’d been taught that left-aligned labels are preferred, to support the prototypical F-shaped eye-tracking heatmap of web browsing. The idea is that it supports easy vertical scanning.

money and profit