Home > Uncategorized > Americans think U.S. spends way to much on foreign aid–but would to like give 10 times more than it actually does

Americans think U.S. spends way to much on foreign aid–but would to like give 10 times more than it actually does

Sound bizarre? Check out this graph (h/t Aidwatch, h/t Ezra Klein):

The stats come from this survey asking Americans how much they estimated the federal government spent on foreign aid and how much they felt the government should spend. Americans’ estimates have, as you can see, no connection with reality.

There are a number of observations you might make: some suggest that we should thus spend more money on foreign aid since we actually want it more than we think we do, while others point out that it says more about our inability to properly comprehend huge numbers. I’m more persuaded by the latter. What is more striking to me, though, is how poorly we comprehend our actual budget situation. How can we have a frank discussion of the deficit if we’re not well informed about what’s really at stake, what’s really got to change?

That people think we spend 250 times more on foreign aid than we actually do illustrates why McCain almost rode a presidential campaign harping on earmarks into the White House: there’s something to be said about reigning in earmarks, but all earmarks and discretionary spending is only a drop in the bucket compared to the actual budget–eliminating them entirely would do nothing. It also shows the folly of the Republican “A Pledge to America,” which wanted to deal with the federal deficit w/o touching military spending, Medicare, or Social Security. Guess what: you could eliminate just about everything else, and if you don’t touch any of those three, we are still in a deficit. We are just more impacted by visible, tangible spending (NASA, national parks, postal service) and thus assume that they play a bigger role than they do.

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