Spending on foreign aid
It’s been a while since the last StatsChat bogus poll, so here’s a new one. Answer it before you read on
In many countries, the level of foreign aid is one of the great budget zombie statistics. A majority of people will say that foreign aid should be reduced, but if you ask them what percentage of the budget or of GDP it should be, a majority will quote a number at least as large as the current level
Ezra Klein goes over this topic again today using US figures. People were asked how much the US spends. The median estimate among those willing to give a figure was 21-30% of the federal budget. Even if you assume all the non-responders would have given a low value, the median estimate would still have to be 11-20%. It really isn’t that high. Not even close.
This is especially disappointing in the US, because the booklet with tax forms and instructions sent each year to basically everyone in the country shows in a pie chart (page 42) that defense, veterans, and foreign affairs in total account for 24% of the budget (and it’s pretty obvious that defense has got to be a substantial chunk of this) and actually says in the text that 1% is spent on international activities, including military and economic assistance to foreign countries and the maintenance of U.S. embassies abroad. Only 4% of people surveyed thought that foreign aid was less than 5% of the budget, putting a fairly strict upper bound on the number of people who look at that information.
One slightly promising finding is that people are not completely information-resistant on this topic. It’s not that they say ‘whatever it is, it’s too much’, as other survey results show (click to embiggen):
Thomas Lumley (@tslumley) is Professor of Biostatistics at the University of Auckland. His research interests include semiparametric models, survey sampling, statistical computing, foundations of statistics, and whatever methodological problems his medical collaborators come up with. He also blogs at Biased and Inefficient See all posts by Thomas Lumley »