Bill Gates vs Donald Trump: Foreign Aid No More?

The 45th POTUS, in the 2018 budget, has made deep cuts in programs that fund foreign aid. In keeping with his tradition, he tweeted about the #AmericaFirst budget, which has seen a massive infusion of funds in defense programs. Funds have been reallocated from the State Department, NASA and of course, the EPA, to boost the defense spending by $54 billion. This defense budget includes $2.6 billion earmarked for the building of the wall, one of the issues which has marked his successful campaign for the top spot in global politics.

maga budget

In a piece in Time, the basic principle of President Trump’s budget has been outlined:

Trump’s Administration is working to dramatically roll back the regulatory state, as well as a host of grant programs that either don’t jibe with Trump’s policy positions or that the White House believes to be unnecessary. Trump has been outspoken in criticizing the Environmental Protection Agency, and his EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, denied the scientific link between carbon dioxide emissions and global warming.

The blueprint of the budget, labeled “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again”, has naturally created a lot of flutter. One of the voices of criticism has been raised by billionaire philanthropist, Bill Gates, who, in a post on his Gates Notes blog, has raised the issue of foreign aid being a vital component of American security and well being. In addition, he argues that this aid provides the US with the leadership in global issues that it seeks to foster freedom and democracy around the world. In a strongly worded opening paragraph, he states:

Foreign aid is often in the hot seat, but today the heat is cranked up especially high. The United States government, one of the world’s most influential donors, is considering dramatic cuts to health and development programs around the world. I understand why some Americans watch their tax dollars going overseas and wonder why we’re not spending them at home. Here’s my answer: These projects keep Americans safe. And by promoting health, security, and economic opportunity, they stabilize vulnerable parts of the world.

If Bill Gates is talking about money, I, for one, am going to pay attention. He concludes the piece hammering home the fact that aid is a minor fraction of the total American exchequer and provides the bang for the buck that everyone is looking for:

Protecting Americans, preventing epidemics, strengthening markets, saving lives: aid delivers phenomenal benefits, and for a bargain. It represents less than 1 percent of the federal budget, not even a penny out of every dollar. It is some of the best return on investment anywhere in government. This money is well spent, it has an enormous impact, and it ought to be maintained.

Gates met with President Trump yesterday and details are trickling in; whether that meeting will be enough to provide some much needed succor to USAID and EPA and a host of other agencies involved in making the world a better place, remains to be seen. One can just hope that in the drive to Make America Great Again, the Trump administration does not become too isolationist and too cloistered – because there will be a hard battle to fulfill the vacuum left by the US in global leadership. This might not always end in a satisfactory conclusion, as has been demonstrated by the continuing unrest in the Middle East. In today’s connected world, it is no longer a theoretical premise that a butterfly flapping its wings in China can set off thunderstorms in US, it is the reality.

How things turn up, whether pragmatism and short-term benefits win over idealism and long-term investments remains to be seen. In the meantime, with dwindling US global aid funds, we need to see who are stepping up and how they are going to make a difference. Of if not, and what the adverse impacts are on global public health and well being.

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