Although the United States provides more foreign aid than any other country, such aid amounts only to a miniscule 0.2 percent of its gross domestic product. The aid that is provided pays lip-service to the amelioration of poverty. In reality, it is designed to support the foreign policy of the United States, from the short-term perspective of presidents and politicians who confront ongoing re-election pressures.
Two principles appear to govern the distribution of foreign aid. First, how cheaply can the recipient government be bought? Second, what will the recipient government provide in return for aid? These two principles explain why poverty alleviation is never seriously on the table.
In terms of foreign aid cash under the table, autocracies are much cheaper to purchase than democracies. Because the minimum winning coalition is much smaller in the former than in the latter cases, a given amount of foreign aid has a much greater per capita impact. The United States government understands this. That is why it never probes foreign governments about how they utilize aid. It simply assumes that almost all such aid ends up in the pockets of the winning coalition. It assumes this to be true even in the case of natural disaster relief.
So, for this reason alone, the United States is much more willing to aid autocracies than democracies. Where it does aid democracies it much prefers that their governments are corrupt. These conditions guarantee a much bigger foreign policy bang for each buck expended. For if aid is distrbuted across the population at large, it has a pitifully small per capita impact, unless such aid is extremely large.
Second, the US government understands that a recipient nation will never willingly completely honor the policies that it promises in return for aid. For to do so would be to choke off all future supply of funds. So aid recipients always make sure that their policies are less than fully effective. Egypt, for example, surely does not want to settle for peace in the Middle East. General Musharef and his successors surely never desired to eliminate al-Qaeda. The corrupt Afghanistan government surely does not want to wipe out the Taliban. For the ongoing survival of such terrorist agencies are milk-cows for the ruling coalitions in Egypt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The United States is a sucker for feigned assaults by corrupt autocrats.
So foreign aid from the United States, most especially to autocracies and corrupt democracies, is the result of an ongoing tango between willing partners. United States politicians secure their own coalition support by parading as defenders of the United States against outside foes. The recipients strengthen their own coalitions with dispensed United States dollars while minimally intervening against their supposed enemies. The entire exercise is designed to secure political power on both sides of each bargain.
After all, why worry about the poor? The poor are always with us!