By Nathan Barton
The libertarian position on foreign aid is straightforward:
Foreign aid is unconstitutional. Foreign aid is an illegitimate purpose of government.
I am a firm believer in foreign aid. I have donated to foreign aid projects many times: not just to support people preaching in foreign lands (even interstate – from one of the sovereign Fifty States to another) but to aid in times of trouble: floods, famines, earthquakes, medical emergencies, even war. I encourage people to give to provide such help, to the right organizations and for the right purposes.
“Wait a minute, Nathan,” you say. “How can you say that!?! Here, we thought you were a free-market anarchist, a libertarian.”
As indeed I am. But that does not mean that I cannot believe in and practice foreign aid. And I have for decades: my Eagle Scout project was gathering a semi-load of relief supplies in the Metro Denver area in Colorado and getting it to South Dakota (a separate, sovereign and (according to corporation law) a “foreign” state). I’ve donated and helped provide aid for people in Nigeria and Ghana, in Honduras and Panama, and even some countries in Europe.
Because in the above paragraphs, the foreign aid of which I write is private. Private and voluntary. And not through the usual so-called “non-government” entities like the American Red Cross or United Way or the like. Individual and small groups, giving directly to people who need help or through a trusted (and known) intermediaries. Emphasize voluntary. (The reason that I could, as a seventeen-year-old, get several hundred people in the Denver area to entrust to me (and a hired truck and driver) valuable items and even money to take 400 miles away, was because they knew my family and me, and trusted me to do what I said I would. I didn’t force them to give anything. I didn’t demand that they give anything.)
BUT that is NOT what we normally think of when we speak of foreign aid. Despite the fact that there ARE international private organizations (or at least, which claim to be private), most of the time when we hear about foreign aid, it is something done by government. Using tax money.
It is totally different. For the rest of this commentary, let us speak of “government foreign aid.”
Foreign aid is simply looting American taxpayers. The government has no right to take money (or anything else) from Americans against their will and give it to foreigners or their governments—regardless of the need, crisis, or circumstances, and regardless of where the money goes, how much is spent, what the terms are, or what the supposed benefits are.
Foreign aid is foreign welfare. If it is illegitimate for the governments here in the Fifty States to dispense welfare to their own citizens, then it is certainly inappropriate to bestow welfare on foreigners. (And actually, whether those foreigners are in their own homes, in refugee camps, or in the Fifty States with or without legal permission.)
All foreign aid should be individual, private, and voluntary. Any American (or anyone else) who wants to help the poor, the hungry, the downtrodden, the oppressed, the disadvantaged, or the underprivileged in any county is welcome to do so on his own or through any number of private organizations—as long as they spend their own money.
Government foreign aid spending, on the other hand, is wrong even if it is a small percentage of the federal budget, is a small percentage of GDP, has bipartisan support, feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, shelters the homeless, treats the sick, educates children, drills wells, curbs drug production, or rebuilds infrastructure.
And no matter how desperate their needs.
Why? How can I be so cruel?
Partly because no emergency, no crisis, legitimizes or makes theft from one person to give to another person a moral act.
In part because government does NOT produce anything: it can only take what someone else – private people in private enterprises – produces. In part because (assuming involuntary government of ANY sort is legitimate), welfare (redistribution of assets) is not a legitimate power of any government and certainly not granted by the states to the federal government in the Constitution. (And any consent granted by states to the FedGov was done almost entirely through coercive means.)
In part because government has constantly demonstrated that its stated objectives for providing foreign aid (and all other sorts of welfare) have NEVER been met – because the very nature of government makes it impossible. And because the real goals and objectives of welfare are almost always hidden (not that government is much more successful at achieve those goals than what they claim to be doing).
Foreign aid is always an example of that old childhood saw. “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” The two wrongs? Stealing from American taxpayers, past, present, and future is the first. The second? Giving that money to those who do not deserve or need it: whether those people are foreign governments or “non-governmental organizations” or the elite oligarchs and their companies and agents (other than government) that rule most countries. (Especially those who most often need or claim to need that foreign aid.) And because the kind of aid given is virtually NEVER what is actually needed, and just sets up the conditions for even more problems in the future.
Whereas, when the foreign giving is personal, voluntary, and individual, the money is NOT stolen (assuming the givers are honest!), and there is at least a good chance that since it is their money, the individuals giving it will take better care in seeing that it actually goes to people who really need it. Not to a government or business that skims off the majority of it (and grows fatter with it), and not to bandits (in or out of uniform or suits) who will use it to gain control over others.
Foreign aid – even aid to other “foreign” states or territories right here in the Fifty States and its associated lands and people (like Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands and DC) – is just one of many ways in which we are cozened by government. We must get over the bogus idea that refusing to allow government to steal money and give it out as foreign aid or other welfare is not being compassionate.
Mama’s Note: And, of course, a bankrupt can’t actually “give” anything, so a government that is 20+Trillion $ in debt can’t “give” anything either. And the actual money given as foreign aid is only the tip of the iceberg. The true extent of it includes massive bribes and blackmail, backroom “deals” to transfer wealth and power, along with job security for a great many government employees and favored minions on both (or all) sides.
And, even if the food and medicine actually reaches the poor people, it is often even more destructive in the long run than whatever natural disaster (or war) made them needy. Welfare from government creates dependence and sloth, everywhere it is used. The more “free food” sent in, the more it depresses the local market and puts producers out of business. Then, when the aid stops or the war lords capture it, people starve.