I forget who said it. That’s a shame, because it is brilliant. The quote: “It’s not what you don’t know that hurts. It’s what you know that ain’t so.”
The Washington Post recently reported that 49% of Americans “know” that Foreign Aid is one of the two largest spending items in the federal budget* That belief has been with us for a very long time – probably since shortly after World War II and the Marshall Plan. I don’t know how many times I was assured by a constituent that us dumb bunnies in Congress could balance the budget if we’d only cut foreign aid.
Well they knew a lot about foreign aid … that just ain’t so.
Foreign aid accounts for less than 1% of the US federal budget. And much of that is hardly give- aways. Anti-terrorism assistance, some military aid and narcotics control are included in the foreign aid budget.
While it is true that the US gives more money than any other nation ($23.7 billion in 2003) we rank dead last among the wealthiest nations in the amount we give compared with our GNP.
Americans can debate foreign aid. Does it do any good? Is too much wasted? Could the money be used better here at home? Or, on the other side of the issue: Is it better to help weak countries build stability than deal with the chaos the usually follows instability? And so on.
But regardless of where citizens come down on the issue, the “fact” is, compared to the rest of the budget, we don’t spend very much on foreign aid; it is certainly not one of the two largest expenses. And we need to know that. We need to know what is so.
*According to a Washington Post /Kaiser Family Foundation / Harvard University poll reported on 2/10/05.