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The United Nations “Investmentâ?ť


George Russell of Fox News has an interesting article today, dissecting the Obama Administration’s claim that the billions we pump into the United Nations are actually a wonderful “investment” that yields big returns for American business:

Is the multibillion-dollar U.S. annual payout to the United Nations a good investment? The Obama administration says it is a smart move. The facts, however, suggest otherwise.

The smart investment claim was made most recently by Esther Brimmer, Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs, the branch of State that includes U.N. oversight, during last month’s opening session of the U.N. General Assembly.

While arguing that “the U.N. helps sustain the global economic landscape that U.S. companies depend on,” Brimmer also declared that “the U.N. spends hundreds of millions of dollars every year procuring goods and services from American companies. They spend more money here than in any other country in the world — more than $1.5 billion last year alone.”

Brimmer was invited to ring the opening bell at the NASDAQ last month, and elaborated on her “U.N. investment” theory in a speech she recounted via State Department blog post:

First, the UN helps sustain the global economic landscape that U.S. companies depend on. UN offices help protect American patents and intellectual property around the world. UN agencies promote global standards for things like international shipping, civil aviation, telecommunications, and postal services. Basically, if you’re an American company doing business across borders, odds are, you’re benefiting from the work the United States does in the UN.

Second, the UN spends hundreds of millions of dollars every year procuring goods and services from American companies. They spend more money here than in any other country in the world — more than $1.5 billion dollars last year alone. So, American companies in places like Texas, Florida, New Jersey, and elsewhere know that the UN is a significant source of income and jobs for small, medium, and large U.S. companies.

Third, the UN is a boost for New York’s economy. Aside from the thousands of diplomats and UN staff, the UN brings in hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. That means billions of dollars for local hotels, restaurants, and other businesses. 

Of course, U.N. funding long predates either Obama or Brimmer’s arrival on the scene, but this is the first time I can remember a bureaucrat citing dollar figures to justify it as a money-making “investment.” 

Brimmer’s first point is highly debatable, particularly as filtered through the inefficient reality of U.N. graft and corruption.  The U.N. is a maze of leaky money pipes circling the world, and pouring money into as many palaces and sports car collections as worthy endeavors.  Every dollar America “contributes” is at least as likely to fund rent-seeking “green” parasites, or fund a multi-million dollar “prize” for a human-rights violator, as to build a global economic super-highway for the benefit of businessmen. 

Also, few of the corporations who really do stand to profit from Brimmer’s “investments” could be fairly described as small or medium-sized businesses.  Even as the rest of the Obama Administration pretends to soothe the “frustrations” of Occupy Wall Street, she’s touting the rich fruits of taxpayer support for transnational mega-corporations.

Brimmer’s third point is even stranger: the residents of the other 49 states are supposed to be happy because massive United Nations funding is pouring money into New York City? 

But her second, and principal, point is the one most in need of debunking, and Fox News’ Russell is up to the task:

According to the 2010 procurement summary, the U.S. did, in fact, get $1.5 billion in U.N. procurement contracts this year, making it the U.N.’s top source of supply in the world.

But when it comes to overall return on investment, the U.S. procurement bounty looks different –and worse.

According to U.S. government figures, Washington gave $7.7 billion to the widely varying branches of the U.N. global system last year — meaning that for every dollar the U.S. put in, it got about 19.7 cents worth of procurement back.

(Emphasis mine.)  Well, that kind of investment “genius” is right in line with the wonders of Obamanomics: spending a dollar of taxpayer money to make twenty cents for a few government-selected businesses.

Russell goes on to note that every other major developed nation gets a better “return on investment” than the U.S., except Germany.  None of them are the kind of “investments” a private fund manager could keep his job by making – Britain gets 46.2 cents on the dollar for their $652.8 million contribution, while Germany only earns 15.2 cents on its $1.2 billion.

It’s hard to think of a worse “investment” than the United Nations, outside of the White House’s “green jobs” disasters.  Like those scandals, the United Nations involves vast amounts of compulsory funding for the very attenuated benefit of a select few.  I wonder if the traders at the NASDAQ politely stifled their laughter while Assistant Secretary Brimmer congratulated herself for losing eighty cents on the dollar.


Written By

John Hayward began his blogging career as a guest writer at Hot Air under the pen name "Doctor Zero," producing a collection of essays entitled Doctor Zero: Year One. He is a great admirer of free-market thinkers such as Arthur Laffer, Milton Friedman, and Thomas Sowell. He writes both political and cultural commentary, including book and movie reviews. An avid fan of horror and fantasy fiction, he has produced an e-book collection of short horror stories entitled Persistent Dread. John is a former staff writer for Human Events. He is a regular guest on the Rusty Humphries radio show, and has appeared on numerous other local and national radio programs, including G. Gordon Liddy, BattleLine, and Dennis Miller.

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