Foreign aid cuts Noorullah Shirzada/Getty Images

Trump’s Unethical Aid Cuts

When US President Donald Trump justifies cutting foreign aid on the grounds that other countries are not paying their fair share, many people believe him. In reality, it is the US that is not paying its fair share.

PRINCETON – When Americans are asked what percentage of US government spending goes to foreign aid, the median answer is 25%. The correct answer is 1%. No wonder, then, that when President Donald Trump justifies cutting aid on the grounds that other countries need to step up because they are not paying their fair share, many people believe him.

The truth is that it is the United States that is not paying its fair share. Long ago, the United Nations called on rich countries to raise their foreign aid to 0.7% of their gross national income (which of course is very different from government spending). In 2016, according to OECD figures, the United Arab Emirates, Norway, Luxembourg, Sweden, Denmark, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and Germany reached that level. In contrast, official US aid amounted to only 0.18% of gross national income, or 18 cents for every $100 dollars earned.

In absolute terms, the US still spent more on foreign aid than any of the countries that met the target. But Germany, despite having an economy less than a quarter the size of the US, was only a little less than $9 billion behind. If Trump’s proposed cuts are implemented, while Germany maintains its aid spending, the US would no longer be the biggest donor, even in absolute terms.

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