Thursday, June 09, 2005

Independent Demagogues

Today The Independent features an article comparing global expenditures on arms to global expenditures on aid. Naturally focusing on the US, The Independent says:
Once again, America was by far the greatest spender on arms. In 2004, it spent $455bn, an increase from 2003 of 12 per cent, fuelled largely by the investment in President George Bush's "war on terror". America's foreign aid spending is around 4.1 per cent of its arms bill. Britain, the second largest arms spender, spent $47bn - a tenth of the US total.
The first thing to note (apart form the blatant editorializing in giving Bush sole possession of the war on terror) is that, like the NYT yesterday, The Independent has totally ignored any non-governmental spending on foreign aid, which has the effect of cutting the more realistic figure, according to estimates, by more than half. It has also inflated the figure spent on "arms" because, according to the government's budget tables (see page 52), the $455 figure represents the entire defense budget for 2004. Needless to say, defense expenditures on salaries, facilities, medical equipment, homeland security, etc. are not expenditures on "arms". So already the analysis is flawed. Of course, saying that money has been spent on defense doesn't give quite the same (negative) impression as does saying "weapons" or "arms", which helps explain The Independent's choice of words.

But the big question I have for The Independent is this: Why does it ignore American citizens in favor of non-Americans? The US is a net payer of foreign aid precisely because it is not a recipient of foreign aid, and it is not a recipient because the US takes care of its own poor and needy citizens. Surely, in the moral calculus of government expenditures, this must be included somewhere. In fact, according to those same government figures, the US spends close to $1.5 trillion on domestic aid...things such as education, health, medicare, social security, welfare, veterans benefits, etc. In case you haven't noticed, that is over 3 times larger than the amount it spends on defense, a point apparently lost on The Independent.

In any event, ultimately the issue is a simple one of the allocation of scarce resources. What is the proper allocation of state resources amongst defense, domestic welfare, and international charity? That, obviously, can be the subject of reasonable debate, but there is nothing manifestly wrong with an allocation in which foreign aid represents 4.1% of defense spending. Especially when that 4.1% represents, in absolute terms, more than any other nation on earth. But rather than engage in that debate and present a reasonable argument for why the US ought to lower its defense spending and increase foreign aid, The Independent, as it so often does, chooses instead to demagogue the issue.


Anonymous Steve Mac said...

How much aid is generated precisely because the US spends so much on arms? Canada, for instance, would have to form an armed service capable of adequately defending itself and the money would have to come from somewhere. How much, of the billions in aid they donate every year, would be left for charity if Japan had to develop it's own nuclear capability and army to defend itself independently? Do I even have to list the financial benefits Europe receives from living under the protection of the US military? Where would their welfare states be today if they had financed the cold war on their own? Not only are they subsidized but it leaves them with enough money left over to distribute as aid to others. (And, I might add, take all the credit.) The US military is a big part of why the West can give aid as generously as it does. A newspaper reporting the big picture should not completely miss this point.

1:20 AM  
Anonymous p sojka said...

It's amazing that the media in general ignores the vast contribution of private and corporate America. A piece on TV the other night had Brad Pitt in an interview w/ Diane Sawyer. Pitt was preaching about educating thousands of African children, how little it would cost per child per year, etc., and chiding the US government about how little it spends on foreign aid in terms of our annual budget. Of course, Sawyer did nothing but nod, toss him more softball questions (some about Africa, some about Jen and Angelina) and smile stupidly, warming to Pitt's apparently surreal glow. Not exactly a meeting of the minds, these two.

4:05 AM  
Blogger Marc said...


Scott, just found your blog via BBBC.

Welcome aboard! I, like you, am an American living in the UK (Scotland) and became fed up with the misinformation being spread by the British media - especially the BBC. So, I started my blog 15 months ago in an attempt to do something about it.

I've added you to my blog roll under the category "UK Media Watchers". There are several good blogs dedicated to the same cause as us. Check them out and maybe blog roll them on your blog.

We need all the help we can get to counter the British misinformation machine.

My blog is USS Neverdock and can be found here:

Again, welcome aboard and good luck with the blog.

11:25 AM  
Blogger StinKerr said...

Nice work. They've been beating this mule since Jan Egeland opened his pie-hole at the UN claiming Norwegian and Scandinavian superiority. Of course, he stuck entirely to government giving and percentages which, indeed, can make us look bad.
The entire point of the excercise, I presume. Not a word about actual money amounts.

I came here on the recommendation of USS Neverdock. I like your blog and your presentation. I'll be back.

11:50 AM  
Anonymous Mark Miller said...

I liked your analysis. Something else that should be pointed out is that it is because of America's military strength that they've been able to devote as much as they do, as a percentage, to foreign aid as opposed to defense. During the Cold War, we were the bulwark of defense against further Soviet encroachment into Europe. Were the UK and Europe in general to take on the full weight of their own defense, they would have far less to give.

I don't consider this as lack of gratitude for that, just ignorance. Robert Kaplan said it best in an article nearly a couple years ago: There are a lot of people who live in developed democracies who don't appreciate the underpinnings of their own existence. They take it for granted.

9:01 AM  

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