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Social Contracts and Free Handouts

March 16, 2011

We have spent the entire semester covering the art of government in all shapes and sizes. From Marx to Hobbes to Malcolm X, everyone has something to say regarding the relationship a ruler and his subjects. However, there is one area that I don’t believe any of these great minds has fully explored. I’m talking about foreign aid.

Foreign Aid is a huge part of the United State’s past. Programs like the Truman doctrine and the Marshall plan are littered throughout our history ,and recent crises like the one in Japan may force the American government to dip further into its pockets.  Foreign Aid isn’t exactly controversial–it’s hard to publicly speak out against what is essentially selfless charity–but is it fair? Does the Social contract that gives the government authority to make decisions for us validate expenses that have basically no effect on the average American? This spending is different than a controversial war or a risky research project that cost the country billions, those things potentially have huge impacts on the nation. A gift to Haiti from the government has literally no chance directly aid the United States of America.

So is foreign aid just something that we have to do for the sake of the world? Or perhaps a bonus that only a country with no unemployment or starvation should consider? At the very least shouldn’t the public have a referendum on every massive donation?

Just to clarify, I am not arguing against the United States’ foreign aid programs. And yes, saving other countries from absolute failure can come back to help. It’s sort of the same argument for bailing out countries like GM. I suppose I haven’t actually made a statement for either side and I sound more like Machiavelli than Rousseau or Locke .  Although it is something of a recent phenomenon,  I just thought it was interesting just how little attention the subject gets in classical political theory.

  1. Brian Fisher permalink
    March 16, 2011 5:13 PM

    I’m not quite sure where your getting at with this statement. While you admit to “not argue against the United States foreign aid programs” your entire argument seems to focus around the financial disadvantages of helping grief-stricken nations. While America is in one of its worst economic recessions since the depression, we still offer financial aid to those effected by natural disasters, war, and other outside forces that most individuals can not prepare for. I believe the weakness of your argument lies in the fact that you put money over lives. I truly believe that there it is never too expensive to help another nation in need because when the time comes, we can expect financial support in return.

  2. apnash permalink
    March 18, 2011 3:28 PM

    While I agree with Brian in the above comment about putting money over lives, I think that from a completely selfish point of view you could still justify foreign aid as a reciprocal relationship, once again as Brian said, but also as a defensive tactic. People who have nothing tend to be desperate, and as the saying goes a man with nothing to lose is the most dangerous. In our recent reading of Rousseau, he talks about how having more than one needs is a cause of defensive wars; those around you see what you have and want a piece of it. This is not to claim that America has too much right now, we are in a recession after all, but to say that as opposed to the situation in Haiti we are wealthy indeed. So, if you want to see it from a strictly self-centered point of view, it is a good defensive strategy against foreign countries attacking us because of their own lack of provisions and our apparent abundance in comparison. But really, the most compelling argument is one of “feeding people who are starving is the right thing to do”.

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