Liberally Speaking (4/30/09)

Fighting poverty, preventing piracy

April 30, 2009

By Steve Mount

Any time revenues decline, whether in a business, family or government, there is an inevitable search for a place to cut costs.

One place that financial advisers will not advise a family to cut, though, is in investing for the future. The “magic” of compound interest means that $1 not invested now could cost you $4 in 30 years.

Similarly, there are investments in the future that we, as a nation, must think carefully about when we are looking to cut. If we are to invest in our nation’s future, one way to do that is to provide non-military foreign aid. If we do not invest in foreign aid, we risk putting our future in jeopardy.

One need only look to the piracy crisis that has recently grabbed the nation’s attention to see the results of poverty and chaos. Though the attention is recent, the problem has been festering for quite some time. In 1991, for example, the World Food Programme was having trouble finding shipping companies willing to take food aid to Somalia because of piracy off the Somali coast.

Because of overwhelming poverty, some of the people of Somalia have chosen piracy as their best choice for survival, even with all the inherent risks.

Is there anything we could do to reverse the piracy problem? It seems we may be doing all we can at this point — the solution is a military one.

According to the International Maritime Bureau, or IMB, another hot spot for piracy is the Strait of Malacca. In all of 2000, more than 75 attacks were recorded in the strait. By 2004, that number had decreased to 38, and in the first quarter of 2009, to only one. According to the IMB, the difference is in the patrols, which have dramatically increased over the past 10 years, especially by the navies and coast guards of Malaysia, Indonesia and other littoral nations.

While the key to stopping piracy seems to be military diligence, preventing piracy from even starting is where our money could be well-spent.

The budget for USAID, the United States Agency for International Development, which distributes American foreign aid, was almost $19.5 billion in 2007, $17.6 billion in 2008 and budgeted to be $18.8 billion in 2009. These numbers are nothing to sneeze at, but they are a pittance compared to our military budget.

Our foreign aid budget covers a lot of important things, according the USAID’s Citizen’s Report. Counter-terrorism, peace support, conflict mitigation, good governance, promotion of human rights and combating AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. The budget also pays for programs to improve infrastructure, agriculture, water supply safety, economic opportunity and financial transparency.

This last group of programs, under the category heading “Promoting Economic Growth and Prosperity,” is where our money can help end the conditions that lead to problems like piracy. If a nation has a sound government, a reliable food and water supply, and provides opportunity for its people, the lure of easy money from piracy or other crime is suddenly that less strong.

The change in administration has brought change to the philosophy behind foreign aid. The 2009 budget was built by George W. Bush’s State Department. The 2010 budget, built by Barack Obama’s State Department, increases the department’s budget by 40 percent, and the budget for USAID would go up a similar percentage.

With this increase, our efforts to fight poverty, both with direct aid and developmental aid, could make a big difference in people’s lives. Could this increase also be a piracy prevention measure? We can only hope — as with any investment, the return is not guaranteed.

 

On a personal note, with many of you, I mourn the death of Williston Central School teacher Al Myers. Over the years, I’d seen Al show off his musical skills at the FAP Variety Show, show off his Civil War knowledge in presentations to the Cub Scouts and show off his encyclopedic knowledge of the history of Williston schools and FAP as he recounted the evolution of our current system.

Al’s fellow teachers in Swift House and throughout the school system are coping bravely with the loss as they simultaneously help all the kids cope with the loss.

While I salute his memory and his legacy, I also salute the continued professionalism of our entire teaching staff. Al’s death will leave a hole, but I know it will be quickly filled.

 

Steve Mount has been a Williston resident since 1996. He is a software engineer at GE Healthcare and is devoted to his family, his country and his Constitution. You can reach Steve at steve@saltyrain.com or read his blog at http://saltyrain.com/ls.