07/16/2010versione stampabileprintinvia paginasend

USAid, the main weapon of the Altruism Industrial Complex.

In the English language, the word "aid" means help, but it can also refer to the Agency for International Development, better known as USAid, the American governmental institution devoted to humanitarian assistance. This federal organ is the recipient of a 2 billion USD yearly budget, with the intention of distributing worldwide alimentary assistance to states and peoples in need. In fact, USAid is responsible for about 65% of the global distribution of food for humanitarian purposes.
Clearly USAid works, but the question remains: How?
Over time, the framework for distributing humanitarian assistance has proven to be rigid, subordinate to superfluous logistical obstacles and victim to colossal wastes. According to a Newsweek report, 60 cents on the dollar spent by USAid goes to overhead, and, according to a Cornell University study, for every 150 million dollars USAid spends on food, another 150 million are spent on marine shipping, a mode of transport that is utterly illogical, both economically and logistically speaking, and that takes away from a reserve of money that could perhaps be used to help even more people. The blame for this falls on the ACP, or the Agricultural Cargo Preference, the primary propagator of the shipping framework designed to cater to the interests of certain lobbying and special interest groups, and main enzyme of the Altruism Industrial Complex.
According to American law, 75% of all food produced for humanitarian purposes must be produced, prepared, and packaged in the United States, and at least 75% of the bulk product must be shipped by sea using American shipping lines. Given this, it is easy to understand the catalyst for all the intricacy and seeming disorder of the American humanitarian machine - Agricultural and shipping industries with powerful lobbyists and consequently, enormous subsidies. A 2005 report (admittedly a bit dated, but, given that the industry in question is so consolidated and heavily shielded from the fluidity of the market system, still valid) by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy titled "US Food Aid: Time to Get it Right," cites many important, if not unnerving, realities about the nature of the agricultural industry's mutually beneficial agreements with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The two major players are Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland. These two companies and a third company, Bunge, control about 70% of the subsidies for wheat production paid out by the Farm Service Agency (a branch of the Department of Agriculture), while a two companies called Conagra and Zeh Noh command 80% of the subsidized exports of corn. A company called Cenex Harvest States has complete monopoly over the export logistics in port, and these companies are paid above 70% of the market value for their services.
On the shipping end of the spectrum, the Department of Defense subsidizes 4 shipping companies that move 84% of the American aid packages and that soak up 40% of the allotted budget for the entire Food Aid program. The same 2005 report cited earlier evidences that American shipping lines were 76% more expensive than foreign shipping lines, leading the many to question whether the USAid program was/is just a large vehicle for generating capital for a small number of subsidized industries and a method of ensure U.S. domination of global sea commerce. According to report titled Impacts on U.S. Economy of Shipping U.S. Food Aid written by a mercantile lobby group, reorganizing the framework with which the ACP (previously mentioned agency) organizes exports would lead to a 15 to 30 percent decrease in productivity and the loss of 16 to 33 thousand jobs. Protectionist wastes justify wastes in supplies and money, and in the end, the United States ends up damaging economies that could use strengthening by dropping off goods and leaving, making loads of money in the process. Paradoxically, USAid, an agency theoretically put in place to help the rest of the world only ends up helping itself.

Alberto Tundo

Translated by Giovanni Zenati