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fighting global poverty

fighting global poverty - Talking Points How to Fight...

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November 16, 2006 Talking Points How to Fight Poverty: 8 Programs That Work By TINA ROSENBERG Ask Americans whether they want to spend taxpayer money to educate girls abroad, and 80 percent say yes. Do they want to give food and medical assistance in poor countries? Eighty four percent do. Prevent and treat AIDS ? That’s 79 percent. But ask them whether they favor foreign aid, and only a bare majority does. This disconnect occurs because a lot of Americans are concerned about how foreign aid is spent. Most Americans think Washington should help the needy abroad. But they worry the money will be wasted. There are too many stories about taxpayer funds winding up in the Swiss bank accounts of dictators, financing dams and highways that never get built or paying exorbitant salaries to American consultants. Americans also wonder when they hear about how miserable life in some countries continues to be: why doesn’t foreign aid seem to be doing any good? One reason is that not much money goes to combating that misery. When pollsters ask people in the United States to guess how much their government spends on foreign aid , the median response is 25 percent of the federal budget – and Americans think that it should be 10 percent. The real number is less than 1 percent. And only a tiny percentage of that goes to fight poverty . That percentage was even smaller during the Cold War, when a large chunk of American foreign aid went into dictators’ pockets or to their helicopter fleets. Its purpose was not to help people, but to buy friends. But even today, 39 percent of the State Department's foreign aid budget goes to military aid, supporting congenial governments like Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Pakistan, and to fighting drugs. Of the money that is marked for development – to help poor countries get richer – a lot goes to programs to help a nation’s central bank become more independent or to train congressional staff. This is important work, but it does not fight poverty. And a lot of what remains goes to help people in emergencies – feeding the hungry after crop failures, or rebuilding after a tsunami. Not much is left for preventing crop failures in the first place. President Bush has proposed to give $23.7 billion in aid grants to poor countries in 2007. But even by the most generous calculations, only $3.7 billion is actually anti-poverty aid. If antipoverty efforts do not help as much as Americans would like, one reason is that their government is spending far less than they think it is. This is unfortunate because there are programs out there with a proven track record of working — of lifting poor people out of poverty, and keeping them out — some run by governments, some by charity groups, and a few by businesses.
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