Foreign Aid


What do students think about our government's expenditure on foreign aid? To find out, I surveyed about 65 Math 258 students. I asked each:

What percentage of the U S government's budget goes to aiding foreign countries?

Below you see a histogram of the results.

The mean is 19.18%, the median is 15.00%. That is, on average these students believe that about 19% of the budget is allocated to foreign aid; half of the students believe over 15% is allocated to foreign aid. (The standard deviation is 17.61--this number has no direct application, as the distribution is clearly non-normal.)

What is interesting about this data? Merely that the U S government's expenditure on foreign aid is really about 0.3%. In other words--just about everyone overestimated the true figure (only one person answered "about 0%") and, for the most part overestimated it by a lot. Even 3% misses the mark by a factor of 10. The average figure (19.81%) overestimates by a factor of 60! (Is a factor of 60 much? Well, if you find a $5 bill you're sort of happy. How do you feel when you find $300? That's a factor of 60.)

The point? Many people complain about the aid we give to other countries. It's really not fair to do so unless/until you know the true facts!

For more discussion see ___________.