False Economies on Refugees

We'll happily pay for war, but not for the consequences.


Credit: michael_swan / photo on flickr

When it comes to war, Americans are heroically indifferent to cost. Our ventures in Iraq and Afghanistan cost at least $4 trillion, but the price tags were barely considered beforehand—or after. When dangers abroad demand military action, money is no object. 

Not that we are willing to squander funds indiscriminately to avert potential threats. When asked about specific areas of federal spending, there is one—and only one—in which most Americans are willing to cut. That is foreign aid. Just because we are willing to buy bombs to help Syrians or Iraqis does not mean we are willing to buy them food or medicine. 

All this matters because of the refugee crisis that has engulfed Europe. In recent months, a flood of migrants have left Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan in hope of reaching wealthier countries. The president of the European Council predicts that "the greatest tide of refugees and migrants is yet to come." 

The European Union, amid bitter infighting, has agreed to grant asylum to 120,000 foreigners—far fewer than the 450,000 who have asked for it. The Obama administration plans to increase U.S. admissions by 30,000 a year.

Not everyone is happy about these influxes. Croatia closed several border crossings. Hungary used tear gas and put up razor-wire fences. "The public mood is fiercely against admitting migrants," Cristian Ghinea of the Romanian Center for European Policies told The New York Times, referring to Romania. 

The mood on this side of the Atlantic is no more hospitable. Donald Trump's campaign manager said that "we should take in zero." Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., chairman of the immigration subcommittee, said the refugees should be resettled in the Middle East. A HuffPost/YouGov poll found that only 39 percent of Americans think the U.S. should grant asylum to more Syrians. 

But if we want to stem the tide of refugees, the obvious remedy is to make sure the displaced get adequate help where they are. Two questions raised by the sudden surge of migration are: Why are so many of them heading for Europe, and why now? 

The answers are simple: because they lost a lot of the assistance they had been getting in places like Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Many have waited for months or years in camps. But lately, that option has lost its charm. 

The number of people in the world displaced by conflict has quadrupled in the past five years, to the highest number ever. That means "a dramatic increase in need, from shelter to water and sanitation, food, medical assistance, education," U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres told The Guardian. But his agency's income will be 10 percent less this year than last year. 

Insufficient funds are an urgent problem. "The current global humanitarian funding budget for all countries stands at $19.52 billion, but only $7.15 billion of that has been raised by international donors," reports The Guardian. "The Syria regional refugee response plan is only funded to 35 percent of the $1.3 billion needed." 

Syrian refugees in camps in Jordan have seen the aid they get for housing, food and education sharply reduced. Food vouchers for those in Lebanon have been halved—to $13.50 per person per month. The World Food Program says 229,000 refugees in Jordan who were getting help now get nothing. 

If you're a refugee with hungry children sitting in a grim desert tent city, you can put a smile on your face and hope donor governments will come up with the money to keep you from starving or dying of disease. Or you can try to make your way to somewhere better before your money runs out or your body fails. More and more of these unfortunates are choosing the latter. 

For those of us lucky enough to live elsewhere, the sensible policy should be obvious. Most refugees would be willing to stay where they are, and helping them do so would be less expensive and less risky than resettling them. The U.S. has agreed to boost its funding by $419 million, but that may not be enough. 

Whether you are a generous humanitarian or an angry xenophobe, you should favor greater outlays for refugees abroad. To skimp on foreign aid now is like stopping inoculations during an epidemic: the model of a false economy. 

We spend a lot of money killing foreigners who are enemies. It might be cheaper to help those who are not.

© Copyright 2015 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  1. I didn’t “happily” pay for any war.

    Go to hell, you stupid fuck.

    1. Me thinks he was not refering to you in particular… in fact I think he was being sarcastic, but I understand that someone of you limited vocabulary and education would not understand that.

      I mean really, why else would one respond in such a manner as you did…

      You must not have mnoticved the wars the country has been involved in over the last 60 years or so.

      1. “…why else would one respond in such a manner as you did…”

        Perhaps he has read plenty of Chapman articles prior to this one.

        I am going to second that. Fuck you Chapman.

  2. To skimp on foreign aid is like stopping inoculations?
    Is war, then like surgery?

    1. Surely you’ve heard of a surgical strike

      1. Surely he’s heard that Govt agencies read these posts.

  3. “We spend a lot of money killing foreigners”

    Fuck you. I didn’t kill anybody.

    1. Twice on the same article, I mean I knew you had no class but I did not understand you were a Troll.

      1. Yes I “mnoticved”.

        You can filter me, white knight.

        Or is this Steve?

  4. Write a check big enough to suture up your bleeding heart then, Chapman. Just don’t expect to rob your neighbors for your high minded purposes.

  5. i think he has a point. if taxes are like a necessary evil (we sure haven’t figured out how to do without them yet) how on earth is military the most legitimate use? and military spending is so much bigger than anything else that complaining about any other use of tax money is kinda a waste of time

    1. military spending is so much bigger than anything else that complaining about any other use of tax money is kinda a waste of time

      You know, it’s really terrible that so many people actually believe that. Not to say the “defense budget” doesn’t need cuts–it does–but it is FAR overshadowed by both healthcare (Medicare etc) and Social Security.

    2. “and military spending is so much bigger than anything else”

      That’s a pretty ignorant statement. Take a moment to double check your preconceptions before you post and you’ll make better points.

      US military spending was 17% of the Federal budget in the Fiscal 2014 budget and that was down from 18% the year before.

      1. I believe you have missed a little sarcasm. Understandable, since there are people who really do believe that military spending is a major part of the budget. My in-laws, for example. They don’t like being told different, either.

    3. The USA spends $610 Billion on the military according to this website:…..comparison

      It spends $922 Billion in tax dollars on education according to this website: http://www.usgovernmentspendin…..ng_20.html

      Who here would support firing every humanities teacher in the USA who lives on the taxpayers’ dime and sending the funds we save to help Europe resettle refugees? Call it the “beds not books” project.

  6. Erope has lived under protection of the U.S. tax payer far too long.Let them sovle their own problems.The Middle East is a mess,in part due to the wars in Iraq and Libya.Still,the Arabs need to take care of their on business. Sometimes doing nothing is the best course of action,

    1. Agreed. Let’s stop supporting Europe.

  7. I was too young to vote when the Iraq wars were being started. How the hell can you hold me responsible for their results?

    1. same way im responsible for how other people’s ancestors (im a third generation immigrant) treated africans?

      1. Illocost, Eman,

        Steve is that unfortunate libertarian who has been drinking the Potomac water too long, as there he is, telling Illocost what Eman and I, both apparently older, what we are used to getting from non-libertarians. Steve does a fine job of playing the emotional violin. But Steve-what about the billions of other dirt poor who have a decades shorter lifespan than we do, and yet have access to the web via some neighbor who has it his android hand held internet receiving smartphone.

        Yet more brain drain! From villages, camps, dumps, the smartest with the most get up and go, are gonna go to who-ever is giving away a better standard of living than they have any hope of otherwise seeing. Thus-most of the refugees are fit looking young men, not old men, women or children.

        And no, Steve, simple math isn’t “false.” It is truly cheaper not to pay than to pay. Steve, please note the West Bank and Gaza. We have paid billions to support those places, and we help subsidize teaching in books and TV that says we should be destroyed, and we suck. No, Steve, it’s not a false economy to keep my checkbook closed on your charity choice. When your actual arguement is made, it’s weak, and my Palestinian camp example killed it dead.

        1. Well said, DevilDocNowCiv.

    2. I was not too young, I was never given a vote on the Iraq war or any other war in my lifetime.

      Oh, yes, I could vote for some politicians who claimed to represent me, but they did not take into account my opinion of war or anything else.

    3. Have you not a clue?

      The YOU and WE are refering to the US of A… and I thought Reason readers could reason…

      We are the people that fought in WW2, Ended Slavery, Passed the Ciivl Rights Act and WE voted for every President there ever was…


  8. I have no problem letting more come here. Ideally people would be free to move to whatever country they want. But even with immigration restrictions, letting refugees move here makes both humanitarian and economic sense.
    Donald Trump doesn’t want any? Donald Trump is a brash asshole who makes a living ripping off gullible people and who knows so little about economics he drove his daddy’s company into bankruptcy four times. Why are we listening to him?

    1. There is no right to move, except on your own property.

  9. Just because we are willing to buy bombs to help Syrians or Iraqis does not mean we are willing to buy them food or medicine.

    Because we know that all foreign aid goes to pay for food and medicine.

    Stupid Chapman.

    1. There’s plenty of money going to both. Chapman knows this, of course, but he’s a lying hack who can’t keep himself from twisting the truth, even if it hurts his argument.

      It looks like Reason has found yet another fool with an aversion to the truth to write articles for them (even if they are pulled straight from the Chicago Tribune). I’d go somewhere else but there’s nowhere else to go.

      1. Spiked-online is a good libertarian website.

  10. Last week we had a nice meal at an Iraqi restaurant, and purchased some tea from the Arabic market next door. Thanks to immigrants.

  11. I got about three paragraphs in before I realized that perhaps I should check the byline. Yep. What a waste of pixels, the usual bullshit assertions and tortured conclusions.

    1. I skipped the article and went right to the comments section, where I knew there would be more thoughtful debate.

  12. Seems to me the next time we take a country we should make it a TERRITORY and Impose peace and a system of government. Yes I am talking about Empire…

    After a period of time of PEACE, say 15 or 20 year give them the oppurtuinty to be a State or become independant.

    I mean really, sending these people money to reproduce is and continue fighting is a failure.

    You need to give these people a chance to build something, live in peace for a while, raisr their standard of living so they have something to LOOSE should things return to the old ways..

    You do this with a BIG STICK…

    I mean if we don’t make the Third World in our Image the Chinese, Russians, and the rest of the tolitarians wil make it in thers…

    1. I don’t see how that could possibly boomerang on us. Why not just stay out of it and let the consequences boomerang on the Chinese and the Russians if they’re stupid enough to stick their nose into that hornets nest?

      1. I would say with the way technology has advanced… The government can track your every move… that once a country starts REALLY using this technology agaist it’s citizens (say like THE PARTY or the DICTATOR) then freedom will be lost forever…

        Think of East German on Steriods… No one will have a chance.

    2. The US made Puerto Rico a territory 100 years ago and today its a corrupt basket case where more then half its people have moved to the US.

      It does not look like we are good at transforming others. Let us stop now.

      1. DJF,

        I don’t advocate America gaining territory and populations, but if you truly believe that “It does not look like we are good at transforming others. Let us stop now,” then you should oppose all immigration to the USA. I support immigration to the USA, in part because I think we can assimilate non-Americans into our value system. What is your immigration policy?

    3. After WWII we forced elections onto both Japan and Germany. interestingly after the war we kept the German POW for a year and a half while we taught them democratic systems. Unfortunately certain groups in America would never tolerate that today and hence all wars become useless unless you are willing to stay for 50 years while they become accustomed to the new freedoms.

  13. We spend a lot of money killing foreigners who are enemies. It might be cheaper to help those who are not.

    And just how would “help[ing] those who are not [our enemies]” accomplish “killing foreigners who are enemies”? Methinks this is a false dichotomy, Chapman.

    I’m all for helping those who’re displaced by war–especially our war(s). But I don’t see how our choice is either to fight our enemies or to take in those our enemies have displaced. An argument could be made that we could help these refugees most by killing off the warring hordes so that the refugees could go back home and rebuild. And yes, another argument says that we should not have contributed to these situations in the first place. Nonetheless, fighting the barbaric armies that have destroyed much of Syria and parts of Iraq is not the opposite of welcoming their refugees.We can do both, one, or neither, but we are not left with choosing between fighting and feeding.

  14. We’ll happily pay for war, but not for the consequences.

    Who happily paid for war?

    But if we want to stem the tide of refugees, the obvious remedy is to make sure the displaced get adequate help where they are.[…] The answers are simple: because they lost a lot of the assistance they had been getting in places like Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

    Yes Chapman, welfare is the cure, not the problem. Why the fuck does Reason publish you?

    The number of people in the world displaced by conflict has quadrupled in the past five years, to the highest number ever.

    Which is amazing because this isn’t a total war like WWI or WWII or a particularly civilian attrition heavy war like Vietnam or Cambodia. There have been eras with far more wars with far more devastation and far more civilian causalities that haven’t produced such a massive horde of refugees waiting to colonize and eat the west.

    1. But Muslims!!!11!!1!

    2. I am wondering how Chapman writer that this is the greatest number people displaced by conflict ever while last week Gillespie ( if memory serves) wrote that there is now the lowest level of armed conflicts in the world in the past century. Something does not exactly gibe here.

      1. It should tell you that this is less to do with warfare and more to do with welfare.

    3. Both rising prosperity throughout the world and better transportation and information technology have made it easier for non-Westerners in war torn areas to migrate to the West. Left-wingers think that our surrender in Vietnam was a huge success, because they don’t count the killing fields in Cambodia. The fact that we had planes to send troops to Southeast Asia, but the locals there couldn’t fly to America is a historical abnormality that probably won’t happen again. Throughout history, the norm is for refugees and/or invaders to follow any retreating troops back to the homeland of those troops.

  15. They have a doctrine called hijrah. In a recent poll a majority of Muslims in the US prefer Sharia to the Constitution. Do we just blindly accept as many as want to come on the presumption that everything’s gonna be fine? The German government telling girls to cover up so they don’t get raped by immigrants? What the hell is it we’re importing and why are people who have (legitimate IMO) concerns about it being shouted down as Islamophobes?

    1. It’s interesting that many people hold Americans personally responsible for the actions of their government (see upthread arguments), yet absolve Muslims of any responsibility in the actions of their government/society.

      We believe that getting along and engaging in mutual trade (is that redundant?) is best for civilization while Muslims believe that killing and destroying all that disagree is best. What could possibly go wrong with merging these two world-views?

    2. Reliable. (future) Voting. Block.

    3. You’re referring to the Center for Security Policy poll? I thought you were full of shit so I Googled it and, though you did twist the truth a little bit, the results are disturbing.

  16. Warfare is fought to either secure the treasuries of other countries, or secure a flow or resources that nets a positive for one’s own country X. As more and more promises are made to the natives of country X, more and more is needed externally from country Y to meet those promises. There’s nothing in the equation about the civilians of country Y, though foreign assistance may be necessary to country Z to encircle country Y. This is the reality of geo-politics that is thousands of years old. Worrying about the civilians of target countries defeats the whole purpose of the Welfare/Warfare function.

  17. OK, first of all, let’s tackle the false implication that this “crisis” is fallout from our actions in Iraq and Afghanistan under Bush. THere was no flood of refugees under Bush. There was no flood of refugees until Obama’s foreign policy incompetence had nearly two terms to take effect. Would there have been refugees without Jg-ears? Maybe. But connecting them to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is a assumption.

    Then, let’s look at what is being said. Do we owe these people the stability and safety of our culture? Great! Then, by all means, let’s export it to them. Because if Great Britain’s experience with Islamic immigrants is anything to go by, ounce here they will try to impose their culture on us. And I, for one, am unprepared to revert to the 13th Century.

    If I thought that Islamic males who attempted to impose Islamic prejudices on our country would be told in no uncertain terms to keep in in their homes, I wouldn’t mind the “we must be compassionate” claptrap. But the authorities in Britain seem to have lost their minds and their balls, and I have to reason to believe that the authorities in America will be any better.

    1. This. Is an important point. The refugee crisis is linked far more to Barry’s response to the Arab Spring than what came before it. The same is true w.r.t. nuclear weapons. He very clearly told the world that cooperation buys you nothing with the US. Nukes or gtfo.

      1. The assumption is if not for Bush their would be no refugees but there is no proof that Saddam could hold power forever as well just like Gadafi and Assad

        1. The Bush dynasty declares Crusader Jihad on the Mohammedans, then is surprised to find a hole in the Pentagon. So they double down on asset forfeiture looting, the economy again collapses. But wait! The NSA taps everyone’s phones outside These States. That info yields enough blackmail to push “antiterrorist” asset forfeiture treaties onto foreign looter states. When those economies promptly collapse, Treasury, the Fed and Wall Street remoras have their securities, derivatives and currency markets short-sold enough to generate back everything “our” gubmint lost on the Crash and Panic plus bailouts like TARP in the first place. So… yeah… them furriners would probably be fairly peaceful compared to what prohibitionist and military-industrial complex machinations have reduced them to right now.

    2. “THere was no flood of refugees under Bush.”

      These was. Unbelievably, lots of Iraqi fled to Syria during the Bush administration.

      “And I, for one, am unprepared to revert to the 13th Century.”

      You might surprise yourself. If you take after your European ancestors, you should have no trouble at all embracing whatever Asian desert cult comes your way.

    3. Yes, the current crisis in Iraq and Syria is mostly a result of Obama withdrawing our troops from Iraq. Our troops stayed in Germany and Japan for 20 years before withdrawing. Even after that, we maintained a massive NATO base in Germany from then on and made sure there was a clause in the Japanese Constitution that prohibits Japan from having an aggressive military. It was foolish to believe that we could leave Iraq after only a decade and not see the country collapse.

  18. Wars cost a lot of money. Therefore we’ve got to help all the people who didn’t want to fight, want free shit, and/or aren’t even really from the same country but their skin color appears to be close enough. Anything less is just mean.

  19. The vast majority are economic migrants, not refugees.

  20. A chunk of these “refugees” are economic migrants from regions not besieged by war or genocide. They paid good money to smugglers to reach their European destination, and some of them threw away their passports to improve their chances of obtaining refugee status.

    There’s no reason for us take these refugees right now. Observe the European experience for a few months and see how it turns out. Their refugee camps are (allegedly) already experiencing an outbreak of rape

    1. Supposedly the refugees in Germany are already protesting October fest in areas where a lot of Muslim refugees live because it offends their Muslim sensibilities.

      I don’t know if it’s true or not but it is certainly believable. There are confirmed instances of Muslim men shouting at German girls to cover up and dress more modestly.

  21. give the refugees guns and tell them to go fight for their own homeland.

    1. Finally, a good idea! Thanks Ron.

    2. We tried that and they just give the weapons to AL Queda or the Syrian Nuestra Front

  22. You know whats even better for poor countries then foreign aid or a vast military intervention, free trade. Get more trade agreements with countries lowering tariffs and trade restrictions on both sides and let the free market work.

  23. Note to foreign readers.
    “displaced by conflict”: fleeing religious and communist genocide
    “Insufficient funds are an urgent problem”: looters are running out of other people’s money

    1. Well said, Hank Phillips.

  24. Nobody asked me if I wanted to pay for wars OR for foreign aid. They just went ahead and did it. I’d be thrilled to cut back on the U.S.’s military adventures around the world if I were able to.

  25. Those people aren’t over-running Europe because of any war. Who ever saw virtually ONLY males fleeing a war zone? This trash would leave all of their mothers, daughters, wives, sisters and girlfriends behind in a dangerous area and run like rats fleeing a ship? Either THIS is the case or they are economic parasites and nothing more!

  26. A ‘Libertarian’ who want’s to increase government spending, because Humanitarianism!

    1. World Policeman Bad!

      World Sugar Daddy to corrupt governments and the NGO parasites, Good!

      No Progressive to see here. Everyone move along.

  27. Iraq had 5 million refugees under Saddam and before the Iraq war. Many of those returned after the war.

    The current refugee crisis erupted 1) in Syria, a country that wasn’t involved in a U.S. war and 2) subsequently in Iraq after the withdrawal of U.S. troops allowed ISIS to cross the border and set up slave markets.

    The world is a complex place. And this site may be called Reason but it increasingly seems to be named incorrectly.

    1. Good points, Tvashtar.

  28. Most refugees would be willing to stay where they are, and helping them do so would be less expensive and less risky than resettling them.

    I agree wholeheartedly, and then we should demand not ask, or beg, Saudi to contribute half the bill. They can afford it. For that matter, we should have included it in the Iran deal also. Sometimes I think we just don’t ask the Arab nations for their share of our generous humanitarian endeavors . Ask and keep asking and when they say no, keep asking.

  29. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ??????

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