Gil and Frank Mustin Professor of Economics Stephen O’Connell recently joined the Public Radio International program The World to discuss billion-dollar cuts to foreign aid proposed by the Trump administration.
O’Connell, who served for two years as the chief economist at the U.S. Agency for International Development under the Obama administration, believes that foreign aid, which comprises roughly one percent of the federal budget, does not preclude spending on pressing domestic issues.
“We spend so little, and there’s such a strong bipartisan consensus at the Defense Department that this foreign assistance spending is complementary to our military spending in terms of our own security,” he says. “I don’t think it’s an either-or, given how small the budget is.”
O’Connell also notes that the percentage of gross national income spent by the United States on foreign aid is below the rate of most other countries. Despite this shortcoming, however, he says the U.S. has significant foreign influence because of the total amount it spends.
“Because we are a big, rich economy, the ways we choose to spend our money have impact,” he says. “We’re often the biggest player on the ground in the key areas where we decide to concentrate our resources. For us to back off of our admittedly low percentage contribution could really be losing a position of leadership and leverage we’ve had by virtue of our big size.”
Stephen O’Connell, the Gil and Frank Mustin Professor of Economics, is an authority on the political economy of Africa and on macroeconomic policy in low-income developing countries. With Benno Ndulu of the World Bank and under the auspices of the African Economic Research Consortium in Nairobi, O’Connell coordinated a large research project on the post-independence economic performance of African countries. The results are presented in The Political Economy of Economic Growth in Africa, 1960–2000, a two-volume study from Cambridge University Press (2008). O’Connell joined the Swarthmore faculty in 1990.