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Conservatives and Foreign Aid


Conservatives maintain that they believe in the Constitution, limited government, private property, individual liberty, and the free market. Their actions when it comes to foreign aid show that they believe in none of those things.

According to ForeignAssistance.gov (a new government website dedicated to foreign aid),

The U.S. Government provides assistance to over 100 countries around the world.

There are over 20 U.S. Government agencies responsible for either funding or executing U.S. foreign assistance activities.

Foreign assistance funding is classified into one of nine categories, which is further detailed into 52 sectors. Funds are uniquely aligned to one category and sector.

For fiscal year 2017, the top ten U.S. foreign assistance recipients are as follows:

  1. Afghanistan, $4.7 billion
  2. Israel, $3.1 billion
  3. Egypt, $1.46 billion
  4. Iraq, $1.14 billion
  5. Jordan, $1 billion
  6. Pakistan, $742 million
  7. Kenya, $626.4 million
  8. Nigeria, $606.1 million
  9. Tanzania, $575.3 million
  10. Ethiopia, $513.7 million

Total spending on foreign aid for fiscal year 2017 comes to $42.4 billion.

For fiscal year 2018, Donald Trump has proposed a 30.8 percent reduction in five foreign-assistance programs. That has alarmed some government bureaucrats and the writers of an article in Foreign Policy. Trump’s proposed reduction was put in perspective by some writers at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. In an article titled “Panic over Foreign Aid Budget Could Use Some Perspective,” they point out that “the foreign assistance budget nearly tripled under the George W. Bush administration from $9.1 billion in 1999 to $26 billion in 2008” and that “spending on foreign assistance increased even further under the Obama administration to $42.4 billion.”

But rather than making the case against foreign aid in general, which would seem to be consistent with the values they profess to believe, these conservatives take a different approach:

Efforts should be made to update and overhaul legislation such as the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act, which has become burdened with a multitude of amendments and earmarks over the years, and to reshape U.S. foreign assistance to respond to the new challenges that have preoccupied multiple congresses and administrations since 9/11 — including both the Bush and Obama administrations.

Supporters of U.S. assistance should also recognize this for the opportunity it presents. The Trump administration’s budget could induce a long overdue collaborative effort between Congress and the executive to evaluate and fundamentally reform America’s foreign assistance programs in a way that maximizes impact, ensures American taxpayer dollars are well used, and supports American interests.

They are more concerned about reforming foreign aid to address “ineffectiveness, duplication, fragmentation, and lack of focus” than about cutting it.

There are two main problems with foreign aid that conservatives fail to recognize.

The first problem with foreign aid is that it is palpably unconstitutional. The list of powers granted to the federal government in Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution includes nothing remotely related to providing charity, feeding the hungry, fighting poverty, eradicating disease, combating sex trafficking, defending human rights, expanding opportunities for women, ending child labor, increasing literacy, building infrastructure, promoting democracy, protecting human dignity, assisting refugees, drilling wells, developing economies, job training, mitigating pollution, or combating climate change. And there are no exceptions for natural disasters or humanitarian crises. Grover Cleveland once vetoed a bill passed by Congress to provide financial assistance to farmers suffering from a drought. In his veto message he said he opposed the bill to aid farmers because he could “find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution.” And when Congress appropriated $15,000 to assist some French refugees, Congressman (and later President) James Madison objected, saying, “I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.” If it is unconstitutional for the U.S. government to provide welfare to Americans, then it is even more unconstitutional to hand out welfare to foreigners.

The second problem with foreign aid is that it is an illegitimate purpose of government. The purpose of government is supposed to be to protect the lives, liberties, and property of the people who form it. Dispensing foreign aid is nothing but exporting welfare. And providing welfare services — domestic or foreign — is an illegitimate purpose of government. In the aforementioned veto message of Cleveland, he stated,

I do not believe that the power and duty of the general government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit. A prevalent tendency to disregard the limited mission of this power and duty should, I think, be steadfastly resisted, to the end that the lesson should be constantly enforced that, though the people support the government, the government should not support the people.

And as Congressman Davy Crockett once responded to a congressional attempt to help the widow of a naval officer,

I will not go into an argument to prove that Congress has no power to appropriate this money as an act of charity. Every member upon this floor knows it. We have the right, as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right so to appropriate a dollar of the public money.

If it is illegitimate for the U.S. government to dispense welfare to its own citizens, then it is certainly inappropriate to bestow welfare on foreigners.

And then there is the calculation problem. To which countries should the United States send foreign aid? What type of foreign aid should be given? How much foreign aid should be supplied? How long should foreign aid be maintained? What strings should be attached to the aid provided? These questions have nothing but arbitrary answers.

Foreign aid is simply the looting of American taxpayers. The federal government cannot give away billions of dollars in aid to foreign governments, agencies, NGOs, and privileged foreign contractors without first taking it out of the pockets of American citizens.

The libertarian position on foreign aid is straightforward:

The government has no right to take money from Americans against their will and give it to foreigners or their governments — regardless of the need, crisis, or circumstances.

All foreign aid should be individual, private, and voluntary.

Any American who wants to help the poor, the hungry, the downtrodden, the oppressed, the disadvantaged, or the underprivileged in any county is welcome to do so on his own or through any number of private organizations — as long as he uses his own money.

All government agencies and programs devoted to providing foreign aid should be eliminated.

All foreign aid supplied by the government should be eliminated immediately.

Conservative support for foreign aid flies in the face of the Constitution, limited government, private property, individual liberty, and the free market — things they profess to believe in.