Monday, February 17, 2020

Do Americans overestimate what we spend on "foreign aid," or do they just have a different definition of "foreign aid"?

From 2018:

You’ve probably heard the statistic: “On average, Americans think 28 percent of the federal budget is spent on foreign aid, when it is about one percent.”

Reporters repeat versions of this “foreign aid” factoid all the time, sometimes with a certain anti-populist glee. As Ezra Klein notes, the foreign aid budget estimate is the “example budget wonks turn to when they want to underscore the public’s ignorance.” [Washington Post link.] ... A 2012 opinion piece in USA Today cited the foreign aid statistic to make the case that “not everyone should” vote.

In other words, the public’s foreign aid budget estimate underwrites an awful lot of doubt about the capacity of Americans to judge public policy.

The problem is, that statistic is quite misleading.... Americans commonly think of foreign aid as including military spending—and no surprise, given America’s enormous military budget, this inflates their estimates of the foreign aid budget....

When leaders use the language of humanitarianism to describe military endeavors, it is no wonder many Americans see defense department expenditures as a kind of foreign aid, and assume our foreign aid budget is enormous.

Also, people like to say foreign aid is only about 1% of the whole federal budget, but Wikipedia says it's about 8% of the federal deficit. That's significant. And we’ll be paying that back with interest in the future.