Foreign Aid: Where Your Hard-Earned Tax Dollars Are Going - Enemy Nations Are Living Large


Each year, U.S. officials send tens of billions of taxpayer dollars overseas. This money, intended for humanitarian relief, health, economic development or military assistance, has found its way to both friends and foes.

In the federal budget, foreign aid typically comes from discretionary spending. Congress, however, may augment budgeted aid with supplemental appropriations when deemed necessary.

For instance, on April 23 President Joe Biden signed a $95 billion foreign aid bill. The package included $60 billion for Ukraine, a combined $26 billion intended for both Israeli security and humanitarian relief for Palestinians in Gaza, and $8 billion for Taiwan and the Indo-Pacific. Another provision included possible censorship of the social media platform TikTok, according to NBC.

The entire political establishment loved it. Biden insisted that the bill “should have been easier and it should have gotten there sooner.”  Leaders of both major parties in Congress congratulated each other and themselves.

The staggering sum of the aid package, which became law eight days after the federal tax filing deadline, reminded Americans once again that their elected officials, who spent decades pumping money into places like Vietnam and Afghanistan, have learned nothing from post-World War II American history.

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Indeed, the closer one gets to Washington, D.C., the more foreign aid of every kind acquires bipartisan support.

According to the federal tracking website, which provides a country-by-country breakdown of U.S. foreign aid recipients, approximately $45 billion of the $70 billion in total U.S. foreign aid for fiscal year 2022 went to humanitarian assistance, health and economic development across the globe. (Reporting for FY 2023 and FY 2024 remains incomplete, so the most recent complete totals come from FY 2022.)

That humanitarian gloss on foreign aid has emboldened some members of the establishment intelligentsia to try to shame U.S. taxpayers by implying that they do not do enough.

In 2019, for instance, George Ingram of the liberal, D.C.-based Brookings Institute noted that “the U.S. provides more assistance than any other country, but a smaller proportion of its [gross national product] than other wealthy nations.”

Ingram also took a swipe at then-President Donald Trump.

“Yet every president, Democratic and Republican, until the current occupant of the White House, has been a strong proponent of foreign aid,” Ingram wrote.

James McBride of the left-wing Council on Foreign Relations made a similar argument.

“There has long been broad bipartisan agreement on the moral and strategic significance of foreign aid,” McBride wrote in 2018.

In other words, politicians and writers at establishment think tanks love sending taxpayers’ money overseas. And that alone should raise suspicions.

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The broader issue of foreign aid involves a number of complexities. Like most outlays priced at tens of billions of dollars, it requires analysis on multiple levels: where the money goes and for what purposes; how best to account for the cost to taxpayers; and why so many people outside the establishment object to it.

In the end, notwithstanding some humanitarian purposes, the aid’s total cost to taxpayers is staggering. And those who object to it have sound reasons for doing so.

Foreign Aid: Where It Goes and Why

Here are the top 20 recipients of U.S. foreign aid in 2022, according to

1. Ukraine ($12,432,692,638)

2. Israel ($3,308,801,617)

3. Ethiopia ($2,190,256,514)

4. Afghanistan ($1,389,022,901)

5. Yemen ($1,375,805,211)

6. Egypt ($1,369,251,827)

7. Jordan ($1,188, 991,957)

8. Nigeria ($1,154,975,462)

9. Somalia ($1,137,089,455)

10. South Sudan ($1,123,918,275)

11. Kenya ($1,028,094,724)

12. Congo (Kinshasa) ($907,530,822)

13. Sudan ($859,064,945)

14. Syria ($826,163,970)

15. Uganda ($790,252,008)

16. Mozambique ($755,550,530)

17. Colombia ($677,593,008)

18. South Africa ($659,671,408)

19. Lebanon ($636,835,966)

20. Tanzania ($612,757,223)

In 2021, Ukraine received a comparatively modest $477,863,577 in aid. Following the Russian invasion of February 2022, however, that number skyrocketed.

In fact, aid to Ukraine accounted for much of the increase in total U.S. foreign aid from 2021 to 2022. Overall aid in 2021 amounted to $53 billion. By the following year, however, that number had surged to $70 billion.

All told, in 2022 Ukraine received more aid than the next seven countries combined. And the total amount sent to Ukraine in 2023 and 2024 will dwarf that of 2022.

Meanwhile, Israel received $3.3 billion — all marked for “Peace and Security” purposes and managed by the State Department. That number will also increase dramatically following the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks and Israel’s ensuing war in Gaza.

Of note, while Israel received by far the largest package, others in the region also benefited from military aid. Nearly all of Egypt’s $1.37 billion aid package, for instance, fell under the “Peace and Security” heading. Likewise, more than one-third of total assistance to Jordan and Lebanon came in the form of military aid.

Aside from these, most aid packages leaned toward humanitarian, health or economic development.

The geographic distribution also bears noting.

For instance, five of the top seven recipients of foreign aid are located in the Middle East. And another two from that region — Syria and Lebanon — appear among the top 20. To put it mildly, some of those countries do not qualify as friends of the U.S.

Africa accounts for 11 of the 13 remaining countries. Of those 11, only Nigeria appears in the western half of the continent.

In other words, given east Africa’s geographic proximity to the Middle East, the overwhelming majority of U.S. foreign aid goes to countries located within a few longitude lines of one another.

Finally, U.S. largesse abroad knows no bounds.

Indeed, even among recipients of comparatively paltry sums, one finds a curious number of developed nations. Canada, for instance, received $32 million in “environmental” aid from the Department of the Interior.

Somehow, even Russia and China qualified for a combined $4 million in aid. And that number surged to roughly $12 million — nearly all destined for Communist China — in FY 2023.

Foreign Aid: Two Ways of Viewing Its Costs to Taxpayers

There are two basic methods by which one may analyze foreign aid’s direct cost to U.S. taxpayers. One method makes the aid appear deceptively cheap and benign, while the other method exposes it as expensive and unjust.

The cheap and benign method goes as follows:

According to Concern Worldwide — a humanitarian relief and development organization — most foreign aid goes through the US Agency for International Development, or USAID.

Based on available data from the most recently ended fiscal year, Concern Worldwide noted that “many of the top countries for US foreign aid received overwhelmingly economic assistance in 2023.” This included “areas such as emergency response, food security, and maternal and child health.”

In other words, estimated humanitarian, health and economic development aid totals for 2023 looked much as they did in 2022.

And few would instinctively object to USAID’s more than $2 billion in assistance to Ethiopia, for instance, which had a 2022 GDP per capita of $1,027 according to The World Bank.

Furthermore, when viewed exclusively through the humanitarian lens, foreign aid hardly seems to give U.S. taxpayers cause for complaint.

For FY 2022, the IRS processed more than 262.8 million federal tax returns. And with the cost spread among so many taxpayers, the foreign aid burden appears remarkably light.

Indeed, there are many ways to play with the numbers on a country-by-country basis. One measly dollar from each 2022 tax return, for instance, more than covered all humanitarian assistance to Colombia ($246.2 million).

Even the total U.S. foreign aid of $70 billion, divided by 262.8 million returns, amounted to only $266 per return.

According to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget — a Washington, D.C.-based public policy organization — FY 2022 foreign aid accounted for approximately one percent of total federal spending.

In sum, the unquestionably noble task of providing relief to the world’s poor, coupled with the size of the U.S. tax base, makes foreign aid seem like a relatively cheap and benign component of the federal budget.

But a second method of analysis, involving some imagination, casts foreign aid in a much more expensive and unjust light.

In 2022, the average U.S. taxpayer paid $13,367 in federal income taxes, the National Priorities Project reported.

According to the IRS, that tax obligation corresponded with an income of approximately $82,000 for a single filer.

Of course, married filers and heads of households who paid $13,367 in federal taxes had different incomes. But for the purposes of illustration, the single filer earning $82,000 will prove most useful here.

In 2022, single filers accounted for nearly half of all individual returns, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Now, imagine an entire U.S. county made up of nothing but single filers who paid the federal average of $13,367.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, from 2018 to 2022 Maricopa County, Arizona, boasted a median household income of $80,675 in 2022 dollars.

Single filers at that precise income level did pay approximately $300 less in federal taxes than those who earned $82,000. For present purposes, however, the difference is negligible.

As of July 1, 2022, the Census Bureau estimated Maricopa County’s total population at 4,555,833 people.

Not all of those people were taxpayers, of course, and even fewer were single filers.

Imagine, however, a Maricopa County filled with nothing but average taxpayers. All 4,555,833 people would have paid $13,367 in federal taxes.

Under that imaginary scenario, federal revenue from Maricopa County alone would have totaled slightly more than $60 billion.

In other words, the sum of all federal taxes paid by 4,555,833 average taxpayers in Maricopa County would have equaled the amount Congress and the Biden administration approved for Ukraine last month.

Furthermore, those who paid $13,367 on $82,000 in income in 2022 worked roughly two months for the federal government alone. Two years later, those 4,555,833 average taxpayers in Maricopa County would have worked roughly two months for Ukraine.

That is the expensive and unjust reality of foreign aid.

Foreign Aid: Three Major Objections

One must concede that defenders of foreign aid have a natural advantage. After all, they need only point to a sick mother or a malnourished child in grinding poverty. Such images make for unassailable arguments, if not for government-directed aid, then most certainly for Christian charity.

Critics, on the other hand, acknowledge the mother and child and rejoice at their material salvation, while nonetheless calling out other symbols of U.S. global largesse: the well-heeled defense contractor or the corrupt oligarch, for instance.

On balance, the critics have the better of the argument, and for three crucial reasons.

First and foremost, foreign aid is not charity, nor can it be.

Charity amounts to a gift from those who enjoy the freedom to give it. Americans, if they so choose, may and should give freely to those in need, both at home and abroad.

But taxpayers do not give freely. They pay taxes at the point of a virtual bayonet. Paying those taxes allows them to keep their homes and stay out of prison. At best, they have perennially and universally regarded taxes as a necessary evil, and they have often doubted the necessity.

Thus, bureaucrats and elected officials have no right to pose as moral actors while dispensing foreign aid. They have an obligation to carry out the will of the people as outlined in the U.S. Constitution. Their authority extends no further.

Indeed, some conservative and anti-establishment figures have commented on the degree to which foreign aid poses an affront to the people’s sovereignty.

In a February post on Truth Social, for instance, Trump urged the Senate to stop giving away money and instead treat all foreign aid packages as loans.

“It can be loaned on extraordinarily good terms, like no interest and an unlimited life, but a loan nevertheless,” Trump wrote.

The former president’s reasoning reflected a deep concern for the people’s sovereignty.

“The deal should be (contingent!) that the U.S. is helping you, as a nation, but if the country we are helping ever turns against us, or strikes it rich sometime in the future, the loan will be paid off and the money returned to the United States,” Trump added.

What could the former president have meant by combining “extraordinarily good terms” with contingency?

The key to understanding Trump’s argument lies in the phrase, “as a nation.” In other words, the sovereign people of the United States, not establishment politicians and their think-tank bootlickers, dispensed that aid. And the sovereign people have a right to demand repayment if circumstances change.

“DC_Draino,” a prominent pro-Trump account, shared the former president’s post on X.

Matt Walsh of the Daily Wire introduced a similar objection when he described foreign aid as “taxation without representation.”

“The whole system of foreign aid is corrupt, immoral, and evil,” Walsh tweeted.

In short, the establishment adores foreign aid for its thin veneer of charity that conceals a deeper assault on self-government.

Second, foreign aid constitutes an enormous opportunity cost.

The question here is not whether the sick mother or the malnourished child in grinding poverty abroad deserve relief. Of course they do.

The question is whether government agents have a right to demand that millions of average U.S. taxpayers work two months out of the year for someone in another country, or, whether those average taxpayers might make that decision for themselves, choosing whether to donate the fruits of their labor to the sick mother in east Africa or the sick mother down the street.

In other words, what else could Americans do with the money the federal government confiscates and then sends overseas?

After all, a full accounting of social problems in Biden’s America would require a separate essay.

Finally, foreign aid has played a subtle yet meaningful role in the emergence of an American oligarchy.

According to the Treasury Department’s daily U.S. national debt tracker, known as “Debt to the Penny,” the U.S. national debt has exceeded the staggering and incomprehensible sum of $34.67 trillion.

In related news, suburbs of Washington, D.C., accounted for five of America’s 10 wealthiest counties by median household income in 2023, according to U.S. News & World Report.

The spectacular wealth of the D.C. suburbs qualifies as “related news” for one simple reason: Debt redistributes wealth upward. And only a federal government large enough to amass trillions in debt could effect that kind of wealth transfer.

Thus, in a nation so deeply indebted, every kind of foreign aid, no matter its apparent beneficent purposes, has the net effect of shifting wealth from the poorest to the richest Americans.

As Will Kessler of The Liberty Daily noted in February, the federal government in FY 2024 will spend more on servicing the national debt — that is, on making interest payments — than on Medicare or national defense.

Unless poor people have begun dabbling in the bond market, that means money shifted from productive taxpayers to wealthy holders of government debt.

In sum, foreign aid might have helped malnourished children in east Africa, and no one regrets this. But foreign aid in the tens of billions of dollars annually, supplemented by emergency funding bills like the one Biden signed last month, has also imposed enormous costs on the average taxpayer, eroded self-government, driven the national debt to unsustainable heights and created a D.C.-based oligarchy that enriches itself off of taxpayers.

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Michael Schwarz holds a Ph.D. in History and has taught at multiple colleges and universities. He has published one book and numerous essays on Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and the Early U.S. Republic. He loves dogs, baseball, and freedom. After meandering spiritually through most of early adulthood, he has rediscovered his faith in midlife and is eager to continue learning about it from the great Christian thinkers.
Michael Schwarz holds a Ph.D. in History and has taught at multiple colleges and universities. He has published one book and numerous essays on Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and the Early U.S. Republic. He loves dogs, baseball, and freedom. After meandering spiritually through most of early adulthood, he has rediscovered his faith in midlife and is eager to continue learning about it from the great Christian thinkers.