Foreign Aid

Pakistan’s flooding is a huge crisis — a UPI column calls it a flood of Biblical proportions.  I heard on NPR this morning that India is giving $5 million to Pakistan, which is kind of a big deal since they are rivals.  Apparently, Pakistan thought about this offer for a few days before accepting.

The USA is giving $150 million.

Since I teach world history, I thought I’d explore when the idea of “foreign aid” first started.  It’s kind of weird, isn’t it?  Why would you help another country?  Can’t that country take care of itself?  I mean, if the US can afford to give $150 million to help Pakistan with its monsoon flooding, why can’t the US similarly help a struggling city here in the US — say Detroit

In any case, I learned, from the Foreign Aid article in Encyclopedia Britannica, that the idea of foreign aid is a new one, in terms of world history.  Prussia apparently used it first in the 18th century (the 1700s) when it “subsidized some of its allies.”  Then, following Prussia’s lead, “European powers in the 19th and 20th centuries provided large amounts of money to their colonies, typically to improve infrastructure with the ultimate goal of increasing the colony’s economic output.” (both quotes from the EB article).

The modern form of foreign aid was influenced by the Marshall Plan (US gives lots of money to European countries following WWII to help them rebuild) and by the formation of organizations like the United Nations (UN), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Bank (World Bank).

According to the Wikipedia article on Aid, there are many reasons for giving aid:

it may be given as a signal of diplomatic approval, or to strengthen a military ally, to reward a government for behaviour desired by the donor, to extend the donor’s cultural influence, to provide infrastructure needed by the donor for resource extraction from the recipient country, or to gain other kinds of commercial access.[3] Humanitarianism and altruism are, nevertheless, significant motivations for the giving of aid.

The $150 million that the US is giving to Pakistan was announced by the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the United Nations.  I wonder how many of my students know who the U.S. Secretary of State is…

Did the Romans or the Greeks or the Persians or the Babylonians ever think about foreign aid?  Or were they too busy competing with their enemies?  Now that the cold war is over, does the US have an “enemy” country?  Does Al Qaeda count?  What is Al Qaeda?  I wonder if my students know that one…

Might aid be like bread, as in “bread and circuses”?  Look at this chart from Wikipedia that shows which countries receive aid.  Of course, the Romans only gave bread and circuses to parts of the Roman Empire.  Is Pakistan part of the US “empire”?  Would the US give aid to North Korea if it were to suffer a severe earthquake?  Why or why not?  Which countries helped the US recover from Katrina?


About Steve Goldberg

I teach students at Research Triangle High School (RTHS) about US History. RTHS is a public charter school in Durham, NC, whose mission is to incubate, prove and scale innovative models of teaching and learning. The blog posts here reflect my own personal views and not those of my employer.
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