Forty years ago, Henry Wallace was laughed out of court on the allegation that he proposed to give a quart of milk to every Hottentot. It was a rude way of ridiculing the idea of foreign aid, which Wallace, a compassionate New Dealer, was proposing.

The ridicule may be more restrained, but foreign aid is still an orphan. After all, the Hottentots do not vote in American elections.

President Carter gets marks for proposing an aid program of $8.4 billion, which he House Appropriations Committee promptly cut by 8 percent. The game in Congress is to see who can take the biggest gouge and yet leave the semblance of an aid program. With one-third of the earth's population iliving at the bare margin of existence, it is a disgraceful game.

It is shocking above all in short-changing the multilateral programs that go through the World Bank and other international agencies. This country had not a little to do at a earlier stage with bringing those agencies into being.

By way of contrast, I have just been in Sweden, which is the only country that meets the avowed goal of appropriating 1 percent of its gross national product for foreign aid. That level was maintained by the right-of-center government that came to power two years ago, despite the fact that Sweden has suffered from the recession and the quadrupling of oil prices.

Norway and Holland come close, with between 0.7 and 0.8 percent. The United States stands near the bottom, with 0.22 percent. West Germany, the money king of the moment, is little better with 0.3 percent.

Ola Ullsten, Sweden's deputy prime minister and minister for foreign aid, says that if all the Western developed nations could reach a level of 0.7 percent of GNP it would mean dramatic progress in the Third World with the development of industry and a rapid growth of trade. Short of great increase in the near future, the continuing stagnation of poverty and hunger is likely to result in food riots and a general breakdown.

With so much of Carter's program foundering in the congressional mire, to lament the fate of foreign and may seem a futile exercise. But in the period after World War II American's unprecedentea generosity gave Western Europe a new lease on life. At the time of the Marshall Plan, 3 percent of GNP went into aid.

The AID administrator, John J. Gilligan, former governor of Ohio, points out that while the war had done great damage, Europe still had railways, ports and highways on which recovery could be built. In the Third World no such infrastructure exists, and that is one reason that the volume of aid seems minuscule in terms of the need.

The triumph of Proposition 13, cutting property taxes by $7 billion to $10 billion, has sent the budget cutters on a wild rampage. They are playing cops and robbers, firing on anything that pokes its head around the bugetary corner.

It is hardly necessary to add that the Jarvis amendment has nothing to do with foreign aid. Aid is just one of the targets in the political shooting gallery. As evidence of how the stampede has taken hold, by last count 47 amendments cutting foreign assistance were floating around the House of Representatives.

Chairman Clarence Long (D-Md.) of the sub-committee handling aid is whetting his knife to lop off appropriations for the international agencies. He would whack $876 million off the multilaterals, which would reduce the amount available to the World Bank by nearly half.

That a rebellion against property taxes in California should explode into a rancorous attack on the duties and responsibilities of the federal government is hard to understand. California had a surplus of more than $5 billion, which Gov. Jerry Brown has now, in cooperation with the legislature, agreed to turn over to cities and countries suffering reductions in vital services. At the federal level there is only a yawning deficit.

In the present assault on foreign aid, there is one more reason to mourn the loss of Hubert Humphrey. Again and again in the past he was a valiant and effective champion of the orphan. Another such champion is sorely needed.