Free Money

Well I’d like some, but unlike Afghanistan, one of the most corrupt countries in the world, I probably won’t be getting a few billion dollars from our government for free…

“Mr. Madison wished to relieve the sufferers, but was afraid of establishing a dangerous precedent, which might hereafter be perverted to the countenance of purposes very different from those of charity.  He acknowledged, for his own part, that he could not undertake to lay his finger on that article in the Federal Constitution which granted a right of Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.”

~ James Madison from the Annals of Congress, 1794 (emphasis added by me)


This past weekend, the US government released $250 million in aid to Egypt from a $1 billion dollar pool that it had previously set up for the purpose.  At the same time, sequester took effect throughout various government programs and departments, cutting budgets haphazardly among agencies that operate all over the country.  In the latest fiscal years, total US financial aid to foreign countries hovers around $50 billion.  Since 2001, Afghanistan alone has received more than that amount (yes, more than $50 billion) in financial aid from our government.  That’s excluding the cost of the war itself or the physical aid we give them in securing their own nation, that’s just the money we give directly to them to help their government.  It’s fascinating that Congress can seem to agree with one another to send financial aid out of the country, but when it comes to budgeting and resolving financial crises within the US, the best they can do is the current sequester.  The idea of financial aid is certainly wonderful, but at the end of the day, we can’t pay our own bills.  And while this may sound slightly self-centered, the fact of the matter is it’s Congress’ job to take care of America and America’s needs and financial obligations first.  This is something Congress has noticeably failed at doing lately.  We shouldn’t be cutting $85.4 billion from programs that go to US agencies before we cut out $50 billion in foreign aid.  That isn’t to say that most government agencies and the government as a whole don’t need to really buckle down and cut items and produce balanced budgets.  But you don’t give your neighbor $100 for free to fix his roof when you can’t pay all your current bills and you’re already $10,000 in debt yourself!

In January of 1794, French emigrants from Santa Domingo arrived in Baltimore, fleeing the Haitian Revolution (an uprising which began as a slave revolt).  Like most refugees, their condition was wretched, and they’d been able to bring little but the clothes on their back.  Congress immediately took up the call to authorize funds to help them, thinking that such a project of charity and benevolence couldn’t possibly be objectionable.  But interestingly enough, the main architect of the Constitution, James Madison, stood and contested the idea, on the grounds that it exceeded their constitutional mandate.  In his argument against providing the aid, he also noted the country’s current large debt, and the need to re-pay it, as well as the idea that the money ought to be spent to relieve the burdens of American citizens first (he had recently supported a bill to indemnify Americans against losses incurred from the Barbary pirates).  Or basically, at the end of the day, American citizens are the ones who pay into the American government.  As long as one American debt is still outstanding or one American citizen is still impoverished or suffering, it is our government’s obligation to financially provide for those first.

The point here isn’t that we should stop helping other nations, or that budget cuts shouldn’t happen while there is money to be had from elsewhere.  When we have our own house in order then it’s appropriate to consider what we can do to help nations facing disasters and their own financial struggles.  But how can we possibly help other people when we cannot fix our own problems?  Because the problem is that Congress’ current priorities and ability to make functional decisions about government are completely skewed.  How can the government possibly function without a budget?  How can Congress or the President possibly make effective decisions about where to spend money on departments and projects and programs when they have absolutely no comprehensive plan to manage America’s financial situation as a whole?  Think about how absolutely insane all of this is….sequester, a huge deficit, no budget…just authorizing spending or cuts in the moment on an “as needed” basis?  No company could run that way, nor could any normal household.  Of course we swing from crisis to crisis, the financial situation only deteriorating as it’s prolonged by hyper-partisan political battles over basically nothing.  The media sits and talks about which party is the “winner” or “loser” in each financial debacle.  But there really aren’t any winners when a government can no longer manage its finances, there are only losers.  And the biggest loser is we the people.


Res Publica


Documentation without Representation:

James Madison in the Annals of Congress dated Friday, January 10, 1794

Linked to Electronic Text

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