Choice of Legacy

Choices, the exercises of an individual’s free will, are the stepping stones that line the paths of our lives. Once made, the path that follows is fairly well defined. Barring unforeseen storms, or other intervention, the only way to avoid the path’s destination is to modify the original choice. So, too, it is with a country’s destiny. Today the U.S. trudges along such a path. The last big change in the path’s direction occurred in 1947with Truman’s decision to enter the Cold War (1947-1991).  Harry Truman could have chosen the ‘damn-the-torpedoes’ route and told the U.S.’s Josef Stalin to return our POW’s or the U.S. would come and get them. “Here’s the deal. Both ways, Joe, we will bring our soldiers home and only then will we go our separate ways,” he could have said. But he did not.

One of my indulgences is wondering. What might have happened if the U.S. had chosen to ‘go its own way’ after WWII? The big military contractors could have returned to what they had done best before the War. Raytheon might have continued manufacturing transformers, power equipment, electronics and vacuum tubes. With their employees’ creativity and skill, who can guess what wonders would have been performed in the market place. Northrop Grumman might have teamed with Martin Marietta and Lockheed for the Mars terraforming project. Cold fusion could have been pursued and solar paint perfected so, by now, we all could generate the energy we use in the closet or by painting the house. Instead of dreaming up biological weapons and their antidotes, medical research could have teamed with nano-tech developers to solve the ills of the world.

The tens of thousands of returning WWII veterans would have joined the manufacturing and development boom in response to a need for skilled, hard-working employees. Disposable incomes would have risen and the economy would be healthier. Of course, the hard part for government would be staying out of the way and allowing the winnowing process to occur. Crony capitalism and the unholy matrimony of corporations to government would have to die. Big bloated companies would fail without their political patronage and individuals with new and creative ideas could sew the fields and grow.  Okay, so we might have done better but what about the rest of the world?

Europe was reconstructed with a large influx of U.S. Marshall Plan dollars. Asia essentially brought itself back by its bootstraps. Guess which geopolitical area won the race of most improved living condition for the most people? Once ‘Communism’ was no longer defined as a national security issue, the trillions of dollars in foreign aid could have been saved. There would be no demand for the ‘pathological altruism’ that drives billions of taxpayer dollars into the hands of people who openly call us ‘enemy’. The CIA would have had no need to overthrow governments or back cruel, corrupt ‘leaders’. Yes, the world would still have had to ‘settle out’ from the colonial legacy. Then again, it is ‘settling out’ anyway in countries and continents like India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Africa. Energy could have been spent on encouraging free and open trade and manufacturing. It is the one thing we know works. China, Russia, and Taiwan are all examples where markets drive a culture forward for more people faster than bureaucracies ever could. No, these countries’ cultures do not look like the U.S. culture but they do not have to look the same to be successful.

With Communism off the national security table, there is no justification for stationing the military in over 200 countries across the globe. To illustrate, the U.S. has three bases in Bulgaria. Bush wanted the bases ostensibly to rapidly deploy troops to the Middle East where, of course, we have no national security dog in the fight. For goodness sake, why on earth does the U.S. want or need to maintain three military bases in Bulgaria?  In the meanders of my mind, the Navy would be committed, as it was, to keeping the lanes of commerce open. The war knowledge, competencies, and lessons learned would have been continued through the marines, surface, naval air, and submarine services. The other services could have been reduced in force to a minimum. Oh we would still be playing tit-for-tat on weapons development but no arms race means the effort would have been reduced by orders of magnitude. There is no need to police the world and try to make it over in our own image. Many think tanks and foundations work and play better with our brothers and sisters across the globe than the government ever could.

None of it happened. We chose to engage the Cold War and are living the legacy of that choice. In the U.S. effort to defeat Communism, the country has embraced socialism. The U.S. can be likened to a big fish with a line of lamprey eels locked on and sucking its life blood. The lamprey eels even have names; agriculture, health care, education, military/industrial, federal lands, environment, big pharma. No matter how much the big fish eats there is not enough to feed the parasites so the big fish begins to devour its young. As the big fish slowly dies, all energy is focused on survival not creative problem solving. The federal government has indebted the young, innocent, and upcoming taxpayers to a point where none may draw a breath free for their own choices.

Unrealistic, you say. Perhaps it is, but I venture to guess that if Harry Truman knew the destination of the path his choice made, he’d have laughed in disbelief. The U.S. is a lousy imperialist. Others, such as the European nations, Russia, and the remnants of Persia have been at the imperialism game for centuries and are much better suited to the role. Imperialism is not a part of the U.S.’s culture heritage, yet here it is, playing imperialist. The U.S. is so inept that it cannot even understand it has lost the game so it keeps trying harder.

One thing the U.S. has historically done well is to breed and foster individual exceptionalism.  The individuals, who dream, build, excel, and fail with equal enthusiasm only to tackle the challenge anew or again, built this land; rooted in industry, farming, mining and business. It is they, with their creative sweat, who laid block upon block to build the greatest country in the world. Even today, during some tough times, most of us have no concept of real poverty or pain. Instead of embracing what it does well, building a working environment fit for an exceptional people, the federal government appears bent on complete annihilation of the individual.

Once each individual is pushed, pulled, compressed or stamped into the federal government’s ‘ideal’ bottle, we’ll all be on the pills seventy percent of us already take. Once the individual allows the theft of the creative sweat that provides the unique nature of each person, the nation will die. I do not like to be labeled. I like chocolate and cupcakes, kids who climb trees and play Jedi knights in shining armor saving a world. Sometimes I choose to engage in ‘high-risk behavior’ like not fastening my seat belt or playing with nukes. I do not want my refrigerator to make my grocery list or report its contents to the government (just in case I am not following my dietary restrictions). All of these labels are defined by someone else who thinks they know best. How I spend my money, what I write to my friends is my business; not the federal government’s business. I love the current hue and cry and all the scandals for they encourage a long overdue dialog among the American people on the role of their government. I hear individual voices choosing to rise in a chorus, rather than be told to sing in a predefined harmony. It is the music of the streets and it is beautiful; it is the choice being made for the future’s path.

A Lost Highway: Foreign Aid

We, the people of the United States, overburdened with taxes, fighting for survival and a way of life, struggling with out-of-touch and out-of-control politicians from all political bents are, in spite of the odds, generous to a fault. Last night the boys and I watched twelve Israeli Scouts perform in the Caravan Gilad; a celebration of Israel through the eyes of its young people. It was energetic, fun and inspiring to watch these youngsters hail life with such enthusiasm. Following the performance, the boys gathered around to listen to Israeli scout tales and, as I was a stranger at the Jewish Community Center, I sat by myself quietly waiting. One of the young women performers joined me

The Caravan Gilad

The Caravan Gilad

for a spot of conversation. It did not take long for her to share all of the wonderful welcomes and generosity she had discovered in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Tucson. Her story is repeated as complete strangers in the United States donate everything from kidneys to money to other complete strangers just because they want to help. The United States is, indeed, a marvelously giving country. These very same benefactors, the everyday taxpayers, almost to a person, loathe foreign aid. Why?

A cursory evaluation of foreign aid could lead one to believe that it helps people outside of the United States by supplying food or money when they need it. If that were so, I think we’d all be pleased, or at least feel slightly less ill-at-ease. The historical foundation and current application of foreign aid, however, are a case study in unintended consequences. The historical roots of today’s foreign aid can be traced to three distinct acts in the foreign aid play.

Act I occurred at a meeting of representatives of forty five countries in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire in 1944. The Bretton Woods conference,[1] also known as the United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference, turned the world on its fiscal ear including the effective elimination of the bothersome gold standard, which required nations to take the nasty deflation medicine when their economies got out of balance. At the same conference, this group laid the cornerstone of the International Monetary Fund, IMF, an organization which pegs the exchange rates to the U.S. dollar. This is also called the par value system. Nineteen countries eventually signed the original Articles of Agreement and the IMF went into business in 1947.[2]  Additionally, this august body also established the foundation for the World Bank, to assist in the reconstruction of Europe following WWII. France became its first customer when the country borrowed $250 million for reconstruction, in 1947.[3]  The IMF and World Bank evolved and changed as they defined and re-defined and expanded their missions. Their tentacles reach around the world, seducing countries and influencing the geopolitical play. For the most part, their losses, which are significant, are underwritten by the taxpayer in the United States.

At the time, Henry Hazlitt, a leading editorialist for the New York Times argued against the Bretton Woods model stating that it would break down over time. In a stroke of genius or prophesy, Hazlitt maintained that “…the result of trusting governments and tying their fates together would be inflation and the collapse of what remained of sound money.” He opined that, to achieve stability, each country should maintain its own monetary system. Hazlitt’s position on the Bretton Woods model eventually cost him his job. He later published From Bretton Woods to World Inflation: A Study of Causes and Consequences; a collection of the articles.

Act II, The Marshall Plan[4] or the European Recovery Program resulted in $13 billion in aid over a four year period from 1947 through 1951. Sixteen of Europe’s war torn nations were the beneficiaries of the original package including technical assistance as well as food, fuel and machinery from the United States. Later there were direct investments in Europe’s industrial sector. President Truman appointed General Marshall as Secretary of State in 1947. The new secretary’s challenge was to address the reconstruction of Europe. Marshall probably already had the roadmap in his head because The Marshall Plan came together quickly and solidly. During a speech rolling out the plan at Harvard, Marshall gave a preview of how the aid would politically benefit the U.S. as it entered the Cold War (1947-1991). Marshall posited that political stability in Western Europe was vital to countering communist expansion in that region, and he believed that political stability was integral to the recovery of Europe’s national economies.

Act III, the Truman Doctrine, was simple and succinct. In February 1947, Undersecretary of State Dean Acheson introduced the domino theory when he explained that more was at stake in the Greek crisis than Greece and Turkey during a meeting with members of both houses of congress. If those two key states fell, he clarified, then communism would likely spread south to Iran and as far east as India. Using the set point of Rome and Carthage, Acheson explained the extent of the polarization of power. The legislators believed, and quickly cut a ‘deal’. They agreed to endorse the program if President Truman would emphasize the severity of the crisis publicly in an address to Congress and in a radio broadcast to the American people. Truman complied. He set the doctrine in few words as he asserted, “It must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.” The Republican Congress sanctioned the aid to Greece and Turkey, which marked the beginning of a long and enduring bipartisan cold war foreign policy.[5]

Currently U.S. foreign aid is divided into two broad categories: military and economic assistance. The State Department is no longer directly responsible for handing out the civilian half of the direct U.S. foreign aid. That task was handed to the United States Agency for International Development, USAID, in 1961 and it is the only place where a firm number can be obtained. In 2013, USAID, under the State Department’s budget requested $51.6 billion. According to the USAID web site[6] this money is invested in agricultural productivity, combating maternal and child mortality and deadly diseases, providing life-saving assistance in the wake of disaster, promoting democracy, human rights and good governance around the world, fostering private sector development and sustainable economic growth, helping communities adapt to a changing environment, and elevating the role of women and girls.

The total cost of foreign aid is tough to grasp since the only firm number is the USAID budget request of $51.6 billion. The U.S. military currently has a presence in 78 per of the world’s countries. Some of the cost of occupation is in the DoD budget but much of it is funded directly through other congressional appropriations. The cost of the IMF and World Bank is mired in mirrors and misdirection. The only thing certain is that the U.S. taxpayer funds most of it and most of their extensive losses. At least the military still does what the military does. The World Bank is currently directing most of its effort to ‘alleviating poverty’ (See Footnote 3) and USAID is engineering societies.

Both missions are a far cry from reconstruction following a world war. But, while the fruits of reconstruction are still visible, the aid of today rarely reaches the people it claims to help. As a person who has lived and worked in many of the places foreign aid claims as victories, I will bear witness that foreign aid does more harm than good. It creates incentives for dishonesty and lines the pockets of corrupt politicians and crony capitalists. It does little for the people. I stood on the docks in Antofagasta, Chile, while wheat from the U.S. was being unloaded to help the Chilean people following the huge earthquakes there in the early 1960s. The wheat was loaded into government trucks and transshipped to the highest bidder. I survived a 1966 coup d’état in Ghana and the foreign aid for education and democratic systems along with food poured directly into the hands of General Ankrah  and his coup cronies; nothing much reached the thousands in need. I lived on Guam in the 1990s while the State Department turned a knowing blind eye to slavery, while sending foreign aid money to the government to stop it. In the Congo, the U.S. backed Mobutu had bank accounts approximating the sum of the World Bank and IMF loans and grant while his people died of starvation during the many famines. To add insult to injury, we underwrite our enemies with foreign aid. On June 8, 2013, Secretary of State John Kerry released of $1.8 billion in military foreign aid to Egypt[7] even after the release of a video in which they denounced the U.S. as an enemy[8].  Foreign aid is a travesty, another secret pipeline for politicians to use for whatever agenda is on their minds.

Perhaps the American taxpayer is uncomfortable with foreign aid because, while each taxpayer makes a choice to be generous, foreign aid takes taxpayer money by force and spends it to promote political agendas.

 



[1] This PDF is a selection from an out-of-print volume from the National Bureau of Economic Research; http://www.nber.org/chapters/c6867.pdf

[2] International Monetary Fund; History; http://www.imf.org/external/about/history.htm

[5] Harry S. Truman Library and Museum; The Truman Doctrine; http://www.trumanlibrary.org/whistlestop/study_collections/doctrine/large/index.php

[7] Al Arabiya; 8 June 2013; Kerry quietly releases $1.3bn military aid package for Egypt; http://english.alarabiya.net/en/business/economy/2013/06/08/Kerry-renews-1-3bn-military-aid-package-for-Egypt-.html

[8] The Blaze; Jun. 12, 2013; Hot Mic Catches Egyptian Politician Discussing ‘War’ with ‘Enemies’ Israel and America; http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2013/06/12/im-very-fond-of-battles-egyptian-cabinet-minister-caught-on-hot-mic-discussing-war-with-enemies-israel-and-america/