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December 06, 2010


Jonathan Tucker may beg media to report Democratic tax proposals correctly, but he persists in misreporting them himself. He ignores the impact of the proposals on individuals who do not file jointly or as head of a household: widows! divorced people without children! unmarried persons! gays! (who must file individually even if legally married because of the 1997 Defense of Marriage Act). For them, the higher rates would kick in for anyone with taxable income over $191,000 (thanks, AP; in my comment on Tucker's blog I was using the incorrect number of $200,000; that's what I get for relying on the New York Times for information). Professor Tucker needs to decide whether he's going to describe these proposals accurately, as an academic, or whether he's going to spin them for the Administration, making them appear more palatable by ignoring the lower threshold for individual filers.

A commenter on Klein's blog pointed out:

This talks about relative spending....Put another way, I think the misconception is probably less about the amount we spend on foreign aid, and more having to do with what the total federal budget really is.

Why should foreign aid be viewed as a per cent of other federal spending? E.g., George Bush increased spending by adding prescription drug coverage to Medicare. Does that mean we should increase foreign aid proportionally? If anything, it means we should give less foreign aid.

So, I tend to think that foreign aid was shown as a % of federal spending in order to make it look smaller.

P.S. I have no way to knowing just what Klein counts as "foreign aid." A lot of the money spent by the military in Iraq and Afghanistan goes for infrastructure improvements, not actual warfare. Some of the money we send to the UN is then given to needy nations. E.g., the US makes large annual contributions to the Palestinians, which I believe go via the UN. It's possible that Klein may have used a definition that understates what some would consider to be "foreign aid."

Another piece that nobody would count as foreign aid actually works that way -- namely, what we spend to defend Europe. Obviously that's military spending, but it has the effect of allowing European countries to spend less to defend themselves, thus having more money for non-defense purposes.

P.P.S. A better way to look at foreign aid IMHO would be by comparing the USA to other countries, both in terms of total dollars and per cent of GNP. I think the US would stack up quite well that way.

The US is actually very stingy by percent of GDP relative to other rich countries: http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/27/55/40381862.pdf

It's perhaps worth noting that the OECD numbers cited by Brendan are for Official Development Assistance, a metric that excludes foreign military aid. Many Americans who are queried about foreign aid are likely not to draw such fine distinctions. And of course even foreign military aid does not include the value to other countries of living under the U.S. defense umbrella, as David points out.

Other categories of foreign aid probably not reflected in Klein's statistics would be

1. Disaster aid provided by our military. E.g., after Indonesia tsunami in 2004 the US Navy gave a great deal of relief, amd did so very promptly, when the need was most urgent. See http://www.history.navy.mil/faqs/faq130-4.htm
By comparison, some international organizations were still getting organized while the Navy was out there doing valuable work.

2. Foreign aid provided by US citizens directly or through non-governmental organizations. I don't know how to measure this figure, but it's large, particularly after a major disaster.

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