We Asked, You Answered: Does U.S. Foreign Aid Raise Living Standards? : Goats and Soda Researchers are split on the issue. We asked our audience to weigh in.
NPR logo We Asked, You Answered: Does U.S. Foreign Aid Raise Living Standards?

We Asked, You Answered: Does U.S. Foreign Aid Raise Living Standards?

Illustration of hands giving money to the world.
Marcus Butt/Getty Images/Ikon Images

"Should America Keep Giving Billions Of Dollars To Countries In Need?"

That was the headline of a story NPR published in early May, looking into a former Trump campaign adviser's claim made during an interview on Morning Edition. Stephen Miller said there's "zero evidence" that U.S. foreign aid has had an effect on economic development.

The economists we interviewed said that Miller has a point: Attempts to connect the dots between aid and growth have had mixed results. But, the specialists said, there may be other ways to measure the impact of foreign aid.

We wanted to know what our audience had to say, so we invited them to submit their views as part of our #CuriousGoat series. We received over 100 responses over the past two weeks. Here's a sampling, edited for length and clarity.


Health is wealth

"I work on projects that aim to eliminate several diseases, like blindness-causing trachoma, as a public health threat. Generally, people in the developing world who have blindness can't work. Despite the complexity of measuring results, I have a hard time seeing that saving someone's sight and ability to work didn't affect their standard of living." -Gail Liebowitz

No evidence necessary

"For Selthare in Botswana [a beneficiary of an HIV/AIDS program], it raised his standard of living because without aid he would not be alive. We have so much in this country, do we really want to be responsible for just letting people die because there is no proof our aid is raising the standard of living country-wide? I can live without the $4 or $5 a year from my income that goes to foreign aid to developing countries." -Kathy Hamel

Firsthand proof

"As a returned Peace Corps volunteer, I have seen firsthand how important foreign aid is. To say that foreign aid is only valuable if it leads to demonstrable economic growth is ridiculous. Foreign aid has brought HIV medications to people who would otherwise have no access to them, built schools for children who otherwise couldn't go, helped expecting mothers and their babies survive difficult pregnancies, led to farmers adopting smarter agricultural practices so more people are fed and so much more. Cutting foreign aid is cowardly because those politicians don't have to answer to foreigners who have thrived because of U.S. aid in their communities. Shame on them." -William Sullivan

The big picture

"Aid is about more than just dollars and cents. The United States has a moral responsibility as the richest country in the world to help. Our blessings are many and we are morally responsible to share those blessings to lift others up." -Lyn

Not really

"As a military person I was part of the U.S. foreign aid support to countries like Honduras in the 1980s. After all this time and money I don't think they are any better. I would like to believe our foreign aid is welcomed, but I do not believe programs without specific goals and realistic expectations should be funded." - Bobbie Carleton

Don't forget corruption

"I am surprised that the article does not mention corruption. I have spent my life in Africa and don't believe that much aid money ever does anything but buy property in London and villas in Switzerland. I do not think that Western countries should enrich corrupt despots and officials while their citizens live in poverty." -Dan Flehmen

Wrong question

"While the evidence base on the impact of foreign aid is mixed, I'm not sure the right answer is less foreign aid. Why aren't we asking how foreign aid can be more evidence-based and cost-effective? Alleviating poverty is the single greatest challenge facing humankind." -Erin Crossett

Thank you to everyone who participated in this month's #CuriousGoat.