The GOP’s Foreign-Aid Fallacy on Debate Night

We should spend more on other countries, not less. Michael Tomasky on the bang for the buck the U.S. gets from sending money overseas. Plus, more Daily Beast contributors grade the debate.

11.13.11 2:48 PM ET

Rick Perry remembered what he wanted to say about foreign aid, at least, so that was a plus, but his idea of starting every country at zero is silly and demagogic—and not just because of Israel.

Nativist politicians have always bashed foreign aid, of course: Why in a-hell should we be a-spendin’ good money over there? ... et cetera. Politicians who have more sense than that typically don’t have the courage to stand up and say things like: Foreign aid serves a grand and important purpose, and if anything we should triple it!

And we should. It’s well known to people who actually bother to know things—just as it’s poorly known among the broader public—that foreign aid comes to 1 or 1.5 percent of the budget. A taxpayer who earns $50,000 and pays around $6,900 in federal taxes, which is a typical or average amount, pays $1,375 to support the Pentagon; $1,335 for Social Security; $173 toward law enforcement and homeland security; $57 on agricultural subsidies; and $42 on foreign aid. (Look here for the full breakdown.) Barack Obama, to his credit, largely tried to spare foreign-aid programs from the knife in his 2012 budget, but there’s every reason to think that it will emerge from the supercommittee in tatters, that is if the supercommittee presents a plan.

Perry’s proposal stands as synecdoche for the whole evening. Lots of bluster, lots of saying they’ll change things that once they get in there they’ll see just like all their predecessors are harder to change than they thought. Besides which, the president who’s overseen the killing of more leading terrorists than George Bush did in his dreams has not made America weak.

We should be investing more around the world. The Marshall Plan, one of the probably four or five greatest achievements in this country’s history, cost $14 billion. That’s about $135 billion today. Sad that it’s such an impossible thought.