Brux column: The economics of foreign aid
This opinion column will address the economics of current policy issues. Writer Dr. Jackie Brux is an emeritus professor of economics and founder/director of the Center for International Development at UW-River Falls; and author of the college textbook, “Economic Issues and Policy.”
In my last column, I argued that the greatest danger associated with our large budget deficit is the excuse it gives politicians to cut social programs. The president's 2020 budget proposal does exactly this, cutting domestic programs by $2.7 trillion over the next decade, as well as cutting foreign aid by 24%. These are the largest cuts in history and alarm almost everybody.
I realize that foreign aid isn't on the top burner for politicians, but it should be. There are humanitarian concerns, of course, but experts also warn that global security is endangered by the various crises around the world. I believe the U.S. should work to end these humanitarian crises, especially when our own policies contribute to them.
Let's consider three examples: Mozambique, Yemen and the Mexican border. First, Mozambique is one of the world's poorest countries and among the world's top countries vulnerable to global warming. The World Bank blames last month's devastating cyclone directly on climate change. It killed thousands of people.
The irony here is that while poor countries do little to cause global warming, they suffer the greatest. A mayor in Mozambique said, "Trump should come to see the devastating effects of warming for himself. He is living in a different world. I've seen by my own eyes the rising of the sea level .... and the people suffering. I've seen flooding. Climate change is a reality."
Yemen, a small impoverished country, is the site of a proxy war between the Saudi-led coalition and Iran. The U.S. is assisting the Saudis with warplanes and mid-air refueling, while thousands of people have been killed in this war and millions more are threatened by starvation. The Yemeni people don't care about the proxies. They care about the lives of their children (five of whom were killed in Saudi-coalition bombing of a hospital as I write this). Congress recently voted for legislation to end our involvement in this war, but our president just vetoed it. If there is one person in the U.S. with the most civilian blood on his hands, it is Trump.
Closer to home, we have a humanitarian crisis at our southern border. Despite the president's constant tweets, we know that criminals, terrorists, drug smugglers and traffickers are not crossing the Mexican border illegally, but through legal ports of entry. Families with children often enter illegally (and turn themselves in) because of huge backlogs at legal ports, forcing them to wait in inhumane conditions or be sent back home. Children are dying and many more are still being separated.
These Central American families seeking asylum due to extreme gang violence in their countries have this legal and humanitarian right. Ironically, the same day the PBS NewsHour reported Trump's plans to eliminate aid to these countries ("they haven't done a thing for us"), it also reported on a program there to teach children skills for finding jobs rather than poverty and gangs. (March 30, 2019). A pastor there said, "if the U.S. spends less on the wall and more on reducing poverty, I'm sure it will solve the problem [of immigration]."
Trump's latest threat was to cut off the Mexican border entirely (until Republican leaders told him it would be catastrophic for our economy). Oddly, in the context of Trump's purge of Homeland Security, he reiterated his plans for closing the border, reinstituting child separation, and sending asylum-seekers back to the Mexican side. (All of these have been ruled unconstitutional.) He was heard telling new acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan to break immigration law and he would pardon him. Adding insult to injury, we are hearing that Trump adviser Stephen Miller will be the de-facto head of Homeland Security.
(Google him and see if you don't agree he is not only anti-immigration, but a white supremacist as well.)
The obvious solution to the humanitarian crisis is to increase resources for processing asylum-seekers, but the president rejects this, saying, "No, I don't want them here." He has been repeating for days that "we are full; we can't take any more of them."
We are not full. Undocumented immigrants as a share of our population is the lowest since 2004. Economists, demographers and even Republicans recognize our need for younger immigrants for jobs, entrepreneurship and taxes to support our aging population. GOP Vermont Gov. Phil Scott says, "I believe our biggest threat is our declining labor force. It's the root of every problem we face." These problems include underpopulated cities, vacant housing, and troubled public finances. Even Trump's Mar-a-Lago golf course is seeking new immigrants for staffing.
Problems of global poverty and crises seem insurmountable to us, but we can urge our legislators to support funding for humanitarian and asylum assistance. We can urge an override of the president's veto on Yemen. Contact www.house.gov and www.senate.gov.