The backlash that Republicans are experiencing on their proposed American Health Care Act is very real and should be worrisome to the GOP. But the fallout from President Trump’s proposed budget cuts could cause even greater reverberations. Waste, fraud, and abuse clearly exist in government spending. But it’s also true that most spending programs exist because a lot of people wanted them, or because they were perceived as important priorities, popular or not.
Consider the State Department. Early on, the Trump administration proposed to cut the State Department’s budget by as much as 37 percent, roughly $50 billion. The number now seems to be 28 percent—I suspect after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appealed to President Trump to soften the blow. But the consequences would still be very real. When Defense Secretary James Mattis was a four-star general heading up the U.S. Central Command, he once testified before Congress that, “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition ultimately.”
Depending on who is counting and how, there are between 178 and 196 countries in the world, of which 35 are members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The OECD is basically the Paris-based club for highly developed and free countries with a mission to improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world. Most of the OECD member countries are European, but it also includes Australia, Canada, Chile, Iceland, Israel, Mexico, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan, and the United States.
At the other end of the spectrum are failed or fragile states. The U.S.-based Fund for Peace and Foreign Policy magazine annually publish a ranking of countries based on a dozen factors, including the stability of the central government, the strength of the economy, the quality of public services, and levels of criminality and corruption. In 2016, the Fragile States Index listed eight countries as on “Very High Alert,” a genteel term for basket cases: Somalia, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Sudan, Yemen, Syria, Chad, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Another eight countries were put on “High Alert:” Afghanistan, Haiti, Iraq, Guinea, Nigeria, Pakistan, Burundi, and Zimbabwe. Still another 21 were on “Alert” status, and 28 more on “High Warning.” Not included are Taiwan, the Palestinian Territories, Northern Cyprus, Kosovo, and Western Sahara because of their less than universally recognized sovereignty.
The “Very High Alert” and “High Alert” categories are effectively a list of countries that are contributing greatly to the world’s woes, whether because of their political instability and corruption, or levels of poverty, disease, and famine. Their governing, economic, and social problems ultimately become our national security problems. The United Nations Refugee Agency estimated in 2015 that 65.3 million people were forcibly displaced from their homes. Of those, 21.3 million are classified as refugees, and 10 million as stateless. Those numbers are likely worse today. Fifty-three percent came from just three countries: Somalia, Afghanistan, and Syria. The countries with the most refugees were Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, Ethiopia, and Jordan. The conflicts over refugees and the resulting immigration problems are cascading around the world.
Next, think about what we spend on defense. The Peter G. Peterson Foundation, using figures from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, estimated that in 2004 the U.S. spent $610 billion on defense, more than the next seven countries combined. Defense spending by the U.S. represented 34 percent of all defense spending worldwide, three times more than China’s $216 billion and Russia’s $84.5 billion.
While the U.S. does rank No. 1 in foreign aid in absolute terms, with Germany, France, and Britain coming next, the total represents less than 1 percent of the federal budget. Five years ago, one study found that the U.S. spent less than a fifth of 1 percent (.19 percent) of its gross national income on development assistance, ranking 19th in the world, less than over half of the other OECD nations. Britain spent twice what America did as a proportion of its economy.
Very simply put, cutting State Department funding in general and foreign assistance in particular is penny-wise, pound-foolish. It is a guarantee that we will have to spend an astronomical share of our national economy on defense in the future. Helping festering countries resolve their problems ultimately helps us and our allies, so that maybe a decade or two from now, we won’t have to spend quite so much on defense.
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