Doing Bad by Doing Good and Why Humanitarian Action Fails is a book by Christopher J. Coyne, an economics professor at George Mason University, and touted by the right wing Cato Institute. Cato is backed by the Koch brothers and others who are notorious for supporting efforts to fund far right anti-democratic groups like ALEC. This group has been responsible for a number of acts to disenfranchise Black and Latino voters and pushed states to gerrymander legislative districts around the nation which enabled conservative Republicans to gain a majority of seats in the House of Representatives while not getting a majority of the national vote — which the Democrats did. In short, they are trying to undermine the basic values of America, namely one person one vote, equal protection of the law, and real democracy and fair elections. What a cast of characters.
Thus, Cato sponsored a book launch on May the 5th for this publication which said volumes for its orientation against any truly “good works” and efforts to help the needy, save children in poverty in risk of early death, secure a healthy and dignified retirement for our elderly, a livable wage for workers, and their right to form unions.
The Cato e-mail invitation had the following outline of the problem:
“A common argument for intervening abroad is to alleviate potential or existing human suffering. Repeatedly, however, state-led humanitarian efforts have failed miserably. Why do well-funded, expertly staffed, and well-intentioned humanitarian actions often fall short of achieving their desired outcomes, leaving some of the people they intended to help worse off? Why are well-meaning countries unable to replicate individual instances of success consistently across cases of human suffering?
Using the tools of economics, Dr. Christopher Coyne’s new book, Doing Bad by Doing Good: Why Humanitarian Action Fails, shifts the discussion from the moral imperative of how governments should behave to a positive analysis of how they actually do. Coyne examines the limits of short-term humanitarian aid and long-term development assistance, the disconnect between intentions and reality, and why economic freedom—protection of property rights, private means of production, and free trade of labor and goods—provides the best means for minimizing human suffering. Join us as experts discuss this hotly debated topic.”
You get the idea! Capitalism is the answer to a starving poor child and the critically sick elderly, to lack of health care, to the need for immediate clean water, and just about everything that rich countries enjoy often very efficiently provided by governments at all levels.
Having spent much of a lifetime either examining national and international humanitarian and economic policies, including at one point running a major program that looked after refugees often in dire circumstances, I wonder if the author or the Cato shysters ever understood the humane urgency of being there while thousands indeed hundreds of thousands die needlessly when no one is able to help on the ground and in circumstances that a capitalist investor would never set his or her foot. The raw capitalism and “protection of property rights” that I know is the 1,100 dead garment workers in Bangladesh.
Do all long term development programs work? No. But often the failure is due to local corruption, lack of existing expertise, or sometimes the withdrawal of funding due to acts of Congress, mostly by Republicans through cutting USAID funds. But many programs providing food, medical help, and clean water have worked as do many larger infrastructure efforts such as agriculture improvement projects. These have been proven by national and global statistics of health, income and other well being indicators, or at least survival of those threatened.
In sum, while the record does showcase some failures of aid projects, the overall global progress made over the decades has saved millions of lives and made hundreds of millions better off than would be the case without outside governmental and international organizations assistance. Examples of these organizations are the World Bank, UNICEF, UNDP, UNEP, and the many programs of developed countries like Britain, France, Germany, the Scandinavians, the U.S. and others.
Can we do better? You bet. We could start by making more resources available to these organizations and national aid agencies while providing competitive salaries for top professionals and carrying out sensible reform. This includes letting more of U.S. food aid be used to buy indigenous food products at lower prices than are possible with US sourced agricultural products and doing more to establish local institutional training and research to improve local productivity. Last but not least, we can do more to bring education and modern skills and technology to the lowest and most needy sectors.
But let’s remember that saying the “free market” and outside “capitalist” investment can raise the living standard of the world’s poorest is nothing but fallacious. Worse, it shows the continued indifference to real human need by the domestic right wing. Such right wingers are advocates of little or no government, imprudent self-defeating global irresponsibility, and selfishness beyond forgiveness.
Sadly this same attitude of indifference toward human suffering is also displayed by the Republicans in Congress towards our own needy, vulnerable young, old and sick. For proof one can simply see the votes and positions which are uniform against human decency and ruinous for both American well being and that of the world. It is no way to ensure global security or prosperity.