SEATTLE, Washington — In a survey about poverty, life expectancy and climate change, people sometimes scored worse than random. This survey then became known as the “Chimpanzee Test.”There is a systematic misinterpretation about poverty and many of the world’s challenges and the ways that people can improve them. As a result, the perception of foreign aid does not reflect reality.
History and Criticism of Foreign Aid
One of the first policies in the United States that addressed foreign aid was the Marshall Plan. The U.S. introduced the Marshall Plan in response to World War II and passed it in 1948. Under the plan, the U.S. provided more than $13 billion over four years to assist 17 European countries in their recovery after the war.
Since foreign aid began, there have been mixed opinions about the effectiveness and strategy involved. Foreign assistance comes in many forms. It is important to review its efficiency to ensure the resources allocated positively impact as many people as possible. One argument against U.S. foreign aid is that it doesn’t contribute to domestic efforts or improvements. Most people’s perception of foreign aid is that it only helps the countries that receive it.
Poverty in the Media and Misconceptions
Hans Rosling’s book “Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think” helps dispel systematic misconceptions about the world and offers suggestions about how to avoid making assumptions. Among these assumptions are the Gap Instinct, the Negativity Instinct and the Destiny Instinct.
The Gap Instinct refers to the popular societal categories of developed and developing countries. Rosling concluded that people often envision the condition of countries at extreme ends of the spectrum, either rich or poor with little in between. Most countries are in between developed and developing, essentially eliminating the gap from 50 years ago.
The Negativity Instinct explores how news influences the public. News networks tend to report only the most pressing issues, which leads to the portrayal of current events in a negative or “worst-case” lens. For example, the news reports on how an additional 49 million people will likely experience poverty due to COVID-19. While this reporting isn’t inaccurate, the proportion of “bad news” to “good news” can be misleading to the public. This may have an effect on the way that people perceive the world. That does not mean people shouldn’t recognize the “wrongs” of the world, but the “rights” should also be acknowledged.
Finally, the Destiny Instinct claims certain countries cannot improve due to their culture or history and that they will always be in poverty. This assumption is problematic because it may cause public doubt about the positive effects of foreign aid, which skews the perception of foreign aid.
Support for Foreign Aid
However, there is evidence that foreign aid contributions benefit countries like the U.S. and around the world. Out of the top 15 trade partners of the U.S., 11 of them have previously received foreign assistance. By providing foreign aid, the U.S. can expand to new markets and create jobs domestically or internationally. Foreign aid also improves security and promote U.S./foreign relations. This is in addition to the humanitarian aspect of helping to improve living situations for others, which many argue is notable in itself as it reflects the values that founded the U.S.
Meanwhile, developing countries can use foreign aid to improve their economies, expand healthcare and create jobs. In addition, they can improve food security, further education and prepare for natural disasters, which is a great help to developing countries.
The Good News
Global poverty has been halved in the last 20 years, dispelling the belief that countries cannot change. Types of houses, transportation and household items have similarities across countries and cultures. Income has a large influence on the way people live, so improving incomes improve morbidity and mortality rates. It is important to remember that “slow change is still change.”
In many of Rosling’s surveys, the general public and experts in international relations and trade systematically misinterpreted the world’s challenges. It is important to analyze every area of information and remain optimistic. The perception of foreign aid and poverty is essential to understand in order to continue making positive changes.
– Sydney Bazilian