Doing Bad by Doing Good: Why Humanitarian Action Fails

Christopher J Coyne, Author
Christopher J. Coyne. Stanford Univ., $25.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-80477-228-0
Reviewed on: 07/22/2013
Release date: 05/01/2013
Hardcover - 273 pages - 978-0-8047-7227-3
Hardcover - 273 pages - 978-0-8047-8611-9
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In his latest, Coyne, a professor of economics at George Mason University, advocates for humanitarian intervention grounded in economic theory. He argues, "greater access to markets, and not more aid and assistance targeted at development, is the best means of permanently lifting the poorest people from the lowest depths of poverty." Writing with dispassionate confidence, Coyne presents economics as a neutral science with superior capability to adapt to changing conditions, while harshly critiquing what's been tried. He uses sleight of hand rhetoric when describing free market principles as humbler, more manageable, less politicized and more effective at alleviating suffering than state-led humanitarianism. While quick to tear apart humanitarian efforts led by governments and NGOs, Coyne's fails to engage seriously with other, highly respected economists' ideas. To his credit, Coyne does nod to contentiousness of debates about his explicit topic of intervention, but doesn't acknowledge debates in political science about "wealth creation" and whether it advances economic conditions across the board. Beneath the veneer of wanting to prevent suffering more systematically, this is a highly political book using cherry-picked examples to fit a philosophy about the incentives that drive human behavior. (May)
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