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US Development Policy


There’s much excitement in the Twitterverse today that Africa has the same surface area as the moon.  According to Wikipedia and NASA, Africa’s landmass is 11.7 million square miles, compared to the moon’s 14.7 million square mile surface area.  But take out the seas on the moon and you probably do get to around the same landmass.

Now let’s compare U.S. assistance programs to the two bodies.  The CBO estimated that the moon program cost NASA about $170 billion in 2005 dollars.  OECD DAC data for U.S. ODA to Africa (North and South) from 1960 to 2010 was worth a cumulative $168 billion in 2010 dollars.  So, give or take, the U.S. spent as much sending technical experts (aka astronauts) to the moon as it did on all assistance to Africa over the past fifty years.  That would be somewhere over $10,000 per square mile.

And what about efficiency and effectiveness?  Whatever the horrible amount spent on per diems and airfares by beltway bandits, the travel and overhead portion of the Apollo missions budget was considerably higher, at approximately 100%.   It is also worth noting Africa has seen a considerable amount of development progress over those fifty years and some of it (think smallpox and rinderpest eradication) was pretty undoubtedly in part thanks to U.S. assistance.  Compare that to the moon, which hasn’t even managed to accomplish the basic underpinnings of development –like an atmosphere.

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CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.