United States of America: Foreign Aid

#politics #USA

1. The USA is the World's Biggest Giver

When the going gets tough, Americans keep giving - to the tune of nearly $241 billion. Charitable donations for 2002 set a new high, rising 1 percent over 2001's total in current dollars, according to Giving USA, a report released Monday by the American Association of Fundraising Counsel's Trust for Philanthropy in Indianapolis. The estimated $240.92 billion in gifts equalled 2.3 percent of US gross domestic product.

Although once it is adjusted for inflation the amount represents a 0.5 percent decline since 2001, it still shows "the resilience and pervasiveness of giving in our culture," says Leo Arnoult, chair of the AAFRC Trust.

Most donations come from individuals (76 percent of the total), and some nonprofit sectors were hit harder last year than others.

Stacy A. Teicher (2003)1

2. ... and the Stingiest

2.1. Beneath the Surface

The USA is only the world's biggest giver because it is rich. In terms of generosity and altruism, the USA is the most stingy and self-interested giver in the developed world:

Book Cover[Americans] are regularly told by politicians and the media, that America is the world's most generous nation. This is one of the most conventional pieces of 'knowledgeable ignorance'. According to the OECD, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the US gave between $6 and $15 billion in foreign aid in the period between 1995 and 1999. In absolute terms, Japan gives more than the US, between $9 and $15 billion in the same period. But the absolute figures are less significant than the proportion of gross domestic product (GDP, or national wealth) that a country devotes to foreign aid. On that league table, the US ranks twenty-second of the 22 most developed nations. As former President Jimmy Carter commented: 'We are the stingiest nation of all'. Denmark is top of the table, giving 1.01% of GDP, while the US manages just 0.1%. The United Nations has long established the target of 0.7% GDP for development assistance, although only four countries actually achieve this: Denmark, 1.01%; Norway, 0.91%; the Netherlands, 0.79%; Sweden, 0.7%. Apart from being the least generous nation, the US is highly selective in who receives its aid. Over 50% of its aid budget is spent on middle-income countries in the Middle East, with Israel being the recipient of the largest single share.

"Why Do People Hate America?" by Ziauddin Sardar and Merryl Wyn Davies (2002)2

Not only that, but according to one source cited by Sarder & Davies, 80% of that aid itself actually goes to American companies in those foreign countries.

% of USA aid 1988-1989
El Salvador3.3

US aid, which acquired an increasingly military flavour during the Regan years, is now concentrated on a relatively small number of countries of special political importance.

"Introduction to International Politics" by Heater & Berridge (1992)3

According to Heater & Berridge, Israel has been receiving 12/13% of all American charitable foreign aid since 1979, the chart shows numbers from 1988-1989.

2.2. Tied Aid

The most generous countries are also the ones that do not tend to tie aid to their own products and services. The stingiest countries also, almost spitefully and nastily, force countries to buy their own services and products with the aid they give; which reduces free trade and commerce and harms the country's economy, as well as being simply selfish and conceited. Thankfully, many countries do not tie their aid. Countries that tie less than 10% of aid include Ireland, Norway and the UK, then Belgium, Finland, Switzerland and Sweden. The USA is the worst, and ties nearly 90% of its aid to developing countries. Italy is the second worst with 70%. The two worst countries for this obnoxious practice in aid-giving are also the two countries out of the most developed countries, who give least generously!

"What is the Best Country in the World? An Index of Morality, Conscience and Good Life" by Vexen Crabtree (2017)

3. Conclusion

Firstly, I will briefly highlight how this causes hatred of the USA, then I will make sure that no reasonable reader can automatically blame the average USA American personally for the state of affairs as given.

  1. Cause of hatred: The hypocrisy that the USA claims moral high but fails when the details of this claim are examined lead many to believe that the USA is ('as normal...') merely using its wealth to buy the moral high ground rather than being it. USA economic interests seem to be the only priority of the ethics of the USA. People are led to hate Americans: For not giving more to the people who genuinely need it, for economic bullying and aggression, and finally for not being critical of their own government and believing its propaganda. People are also driven to hate the USA as a whole for its wholesale economic aggression, hypocrisy, lies and power mongering even when it comes to charity

  2. But, the statistics are not enough to warrant a justifiable hatred of USA Americans. For starters, the vast majority of giving is done by individuals, not by corporations, and we need to be able to differentiate between the two. If corporations are particularly poor givers in the USA, then it is simply commercialism that is to blame for the USA's tight pockets, but USA individuals may well be the same as individuals in other developed countries. From these stats, we can't tell, so any conclusion would be wrong

  3. USA citizens are not given world news in the same way as most the other developed nations, and may well be genuinely unaware that much of the world is as poor as it is. European news is highly world-centric, whereas due to its size most USA news does not have enough time to cover news in all neighbouring states, let alone news from around the world. Therefore again it may be corporate greed that betrays American, not its relatively innocent ordinary citizens

The rest of the world
It is likely true that all countries are biased towards giving to countries where they have economic or political interest. This is inevitable, and will probably never change. The difference with the USA appears to be that it is the single loudest self-congratulator. When it comes to war and aggression and other USA foreign policy issues, the USA is always heard to be boasting of how it is a beneficiary to much of the world. Yet, proportionally, all 21 of the other developed nations give more, and none of them used the "we are good because we are generous" argument that their policy was correct. Such emotional blackmail would produce a lot of internal criticism in any European country where the government claimed such a thing. In Europe where worldly communications are highly developed, every country can see the internal workings of the rest of the world and governmental criticism is heard of all governments.

However, despite the USA's dominance of mass media, it is frequently only the pro-USA, self-congratulatory messages that seem to arrive in Europe, the USA citizens criticism and disbelief of their own government is not apparent, which gives the overall impression that Americans are either gullible, ignorant or honestly uncaring. It appears to many Europeans that the USA government and its citizens believe two things:

  1. That USA is a generous nation of people.

  2. That this also gives the USA a right to enforce aggressive foreign policies and aggressively pursue economic interests in all other countries.

This can be explained if we dismiss it purely as a symptom of USA style overpowering commercialism, but it leaves many people in the modern world to seriously doubt the honesty or sincerity of any USA aid that does go to non-American companies in foreign countries. (Also, we need to look at what percent of foreign aid of other countries goes to own-companies abroad). The result is a cycle of mistrust of USA aid, distrust of the motives for giving (where the blackmail tactic is used so often, the motives are often not seen as charitable, but manipulative) and hatred of the USA's approach as a whole.

I must assert, however, that I believe most USA citizens give money because they genuinely care about the plight of the poor world, as well as their own numerous poor, but that they themselves do not often look into the mechanisms of how that aid is distributed and used. And let's face it, when we give to charity, how many of us check how the charity in question is using the funds? Especially with foreign charity, it is a difficult task and most people do not even know how to go about checking that their money is used properly, usefully and unpolitically.

So, in conclusion, I think that the USA government intentionally manipulates other countries, especially poor ones, by strategic giving, and the USA government also manipulates its own people by boosting their egos and self-worth through delusions of moral greatness achieved through charity. It is nearly certainly not the case that the average USA citizen is less caring or less generous, but is a function of USA style capitalism that money is power, and morals are subservient to long term economic interests - something which the average citizen (or company) can do little to alter. Any alteration needs to be enacted wholesale by USA federal government, but, however, the USA government system is the single biggest conscious cause of such a situation, and appears to be very unwilling to change, and perhaps even believes that its style of "free trade" is actually good for the rest of the world. Is the government wearing blinkers, or, as George Orwell would be very quick to suggest, have they succumbed to their own commercialist propaganda? Are the stats all wrong and the USA is genuinely more generous than all 21 of the most developed/richest countries even including Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden?

By Vexen Crabtree 2003 Aug 28
Parent page: The United States of America

References: (What's this?)

Book Cover

Heater & Berridge
(1992) Introduction to International Politics. 1993 version. Published by Harvester Wheatsheaf publishing, Herts, UK.

Sardar, Ziauddin and Davies, Merryl Wyn
(2002) Why Do People Hate America?.


  1. Stacy A. Teicher (2003 Jun 23) article. Teicher is a staff writer for The Christian Science Monitor newsfeed. Article on www.csmonitor.com accessed 2003 Aug.^
  2. Sardar & Davies (2002) p79.^
  3. Heater & Berridge (1992) p80.^
  4. 2005 Sep 16: Added quotes from "What is the Best Country in the World? An Index of Morality, Conscience and Good Life" by Vexen Crabtree (2017).

© 2017 Vexen Crabtree. All rights reserved.