In a democratic country, we expect government to do what benefits its voters. It is not clear to me:

  1. What is the voting group that demands foreign aid?
  2. If they want it - why don't they just send their own money instead of taxpayers' money?
  • 2
    "must do what benefits its voters". "Let's assume a perfectly spherical cow in a vacuum"
    – user4012
    Commented May 27, 2017 at 12:51

1 Answer 1


In democratic country government must do what benefits its voters.

This doesn't seem like a valid premise. It would be more correct - but still simplified - to say that in a democracy, a government must do what the majority of voters want.

There are many things that do not benefit any voters or the majority of voters directly: the right to asylum, cutting taxes for the super-rich, etc. They are still done for a variety of reasons.

What are the benefits of foreign aid for voters?

There are basically two benefits:

  1. A country can influence another country via foreign aid
  2. Humanitarian reasons

I think the second point should be obvious, so let's focus on the first.

A prominent example is the Marshall plan, which was at least partially meant to prevent the spread of communism (which it did).

In general, foreign aid can improve diplomatic relations with the receiving country, it can be used to (militarily) strengthen allies, to influence their internal policies, to stabilize the country and to improve their economy and infrastructure (thus providing investment and trade opportunities).

See for example this Forbes article which argues along the same line: Foreign Aid: The Good And Bad

If they want it - why don't they just send their own and not taxpayers money?

They do. But this argument doesn't make any sense. You might as well ask why the government builds roads; If you want a road, just build it yourself.

  • 3
    Foreign aid is also a means for governments to subsidize the exports of their own domestic corporations. For instance, foreign aid is given to build lets say an airport to enhance the infrastructure, but the domestic corporations are among the strongest on the world market. A lot of foreign aid eg for food security is a indirect subsidy to companies like Bayer etc. For the German foreign aid you can watch the arte-documentary "Konzerne als Retter?", where they find such extremes as the subsidy of frozen DrOetker pizza in Kenia. Then, again lobby groups for that industries push the agenda
    – jjdb
    Commented May 27, 2017 at 9:57
  • 1
    And yet another reason (or a cynical subheading under "humanitarian reasons") is the spillover effects of underdevelopment. If foreign aid is effective in supporting development, it may prevent things like state failure, refugee flows, etc.
    – Brian Z
    Commented May 27, 2017 at 15:05
  • Foreign aid can also be used for strategic ends. A country with a more stable economy is less likely to develop a revolution. A country whose economy was stabilized by another country is more likely to support that country diplomatically and militarily.
    – phoog
    Commented Jun 11, 2017 at 5:19
  • In the case of the U.S. and the Monreo Doctrine foreign policy, the foreign aid (especially military aid) would be to keep the war "Over there" and the troops "over here". Just to point out a rather unusual fact of conflict, but there hasn't been a war between two nations on the American continents in a century. The only other continent with a similar record is Australia, which is a mono-state continent... and if you don't include the Emu Wars (which Australia lost, and was probably the most humiliating defeat a nation ever suffered... considering that their enemy was literally the Emus).
    – hszmv
    Commented Oct 18, 2019 at 18:55

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