Foreign Aid $ Shouldn’t Pay for NRA Proposal

During yesterday’s NRA press conference, Wayne LaPierre squeezed in plenty of ridiculous proposals (most notably, the highly inefficient & costly idea that American kids can best be kept safe w/an armed cop outside every school, an idea so ludicrous, in fact,  that even long time gun enthusiast John Lott Jr. disapproved) including the preposterous suggestion that public funds allocated towards foreign aid might be better spent on the NRA’s new security proposal.

LaPierre suggested:

“With all the foreign aid, with all the money in the federal budget, we can’t afford to put a police officer in every school?”

I’m all for reconsidering the size of the aid budget. But the notion that money from the aid budget should be reallocated towards new security measures? That’s laughable.

Aid is a tiny portion of the budget. Foreign aid accounts for a little over 1% of the federal budget.  The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development estimated that in 2010, the U.S. gave $30 billion  in the form of aid.

A quick Google search tells me that the National Center for Education Statistics estimated 98,817 public schools in the United States between 2009-2010.  Let’s round that to 100, 000 for easy math. Now, following the NRA’s advice, let’s assume only one armed officer for each school. The Bureau of Labor Statistics that the avg. salary for a policeman is $55,000 per year, so let’s run with that figure. Assuming the public’s demand for police force stays the same, brand new cops would need to be hired, i.e.  100,000 cops at salary of $55k per year = $5.5 billion.

That’s just in salaries. On top of that, we’d need to add the cost of searching and hiring these new guards, arming them, training them, transporting them to the schools, side benefits, new uniforms, etc., a figure too difficult for me to calculate. Then there’s the added cost of the administration, planning and general bureaucracy of ensuring the planning and execution. Once we throw in the opportunity costs of this grand scheme, it’s difficult to estimate how far the final figure is from $30 billion.

And all for what? Armed cops didn’t stop the Columbine shooting. Neither did campus police at Virginia Tech ( I later read here that VA Tech had it’s own SWAT team). There’s no proof that the benefits will outweigh the costs.

Numbers aside, how come politicians or special interest groups are quick to promote their ideas at the expense of aid? The answer can be found in public choice theory.  The average voter thinks the aid budget is a lot larger than it actually is.  Because voters are rational (let’s assume) they prefer that public money be spent on services they can benefit from, rather than aid for developing countries. Moreover, politicians who vote to cut aid are less unlikely to become as unpopular amongst voters as the ones who argue for less public spending on domestic policies e.g. social security, healthcare, etc.

Like politicians and voters, the NRA is interested in maximizing it’s benefits. The NRA is a special interests group, a lobbying group with a hefty budget. By asking the government to introduce this new security measure, its asking for public funds to pay the cost of its idea,  which essentially means citizens pay with their tax dollars. Some were appalled that the NRA didn’t admit the problem is too many guns in circulation. Some were shocked the NRA didn’t keep its mouth shut altogether. Of course not!  The NRA’s mission is for more citizens to be armed. The group will most certainly only propose a solution that accomplishes its own objectives.

The point here is that it’s absurd to suggest the latest policy proposal should be funded at the expense of foreign aid. Although I’m skeptical of the amount of money allocated towards aid, I’m in no position to comment on how much, or how little, of the budget should be directed towards aiding the developing world. Regardless, the focus should be on better aid, which may not necessarily mean less aid.

Putting the aid debate aside, it’s simply wrong that taxpayers foot the bill for a special interest group’s idea. Instead of forcing us to pay, the NRA should generously donate some of it’s own $300 million budget towards its grand idea. That would make much more sense than pulling cash from the foreign aid budget.

**thanks to Ajay Menon & Daniel Lin for steering this topic in my direction.

Posted in Foreign Aid

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I'm a graduate student interested in political economy analysis of developing countries & macroeconomics. Blogging about these & other topics within economic development.

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@maria_andersen mander97(at)jhu(dot)edu

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