Bane of Do-Gooders

, Spencer Irvine, Leave a comment

The Responsibility To Protect, or R2P policies of the UN and, for that matter, the Obama Administration, are rather vague, economist Christopher Coyne argues in his book Doing Bad By Doing Good.

Coyne, who teaches at George Mason University,  calls R2P one of the “slipperiest concepts in the policy lexicon” today because its vagueness refers to everything yet refers to nothing. Too often the U.S. or United Nations uses the term to enable them to intervene on humanitarian grounds. Instead of adopting the old-school U.N. approach of intervening to promote peace, the new U.N. deploys an almost-permanent armed force meant to monitor a potentially volatile situation without an end in sight (i.e. Kosovo and Serbia, in which UN forces have  operated there since the end of the Balkan ethnic cleansing wars).

He breaks down the major problems that face the humanitarian aid community and how they have only perpetuated poverty instead of alleviating pain and suffering of those who they say they serve.

The two major problems facing effective humanitarian interventions are that providers lack relevant knowledge of logistics on the ground, and these interventions are not convenient for those in power in the affected area.Yet American political figures like Hillary Clinton insist that humanitarian interventions and aid represent “who we are. It is in our DNA.” Coyne calls this “coming from above” humanitarian approach the “man of the humanitarian system” problem.

Instead of asking “What must be done,” Coyne suggests that everyone should think of the question, “What can be done?” Accepting one’s limitations in humanitarian aid is the first step and allows practical goals to be met instead of leaving a semi-permanent bureaucracy or refugee system in place. Too often international leaders feel as though they have the cure-all for poverty, yet do not accept the fact that there are limited resources to distribute to the impoverished area.

Coyne’s ultimate suggestion is to let the free market work in humanitarian aid, instead of relying on the outdated and wasteful model of top-down central planning. With a bottom-up approach, which incentivizes local residents to allocate resources effectively and efficiently, it could remedy the decades-long problem of poverty in developing or disaster-affected areas across the world.


Spencer Irvine is a staff writer at Accuracy in Academia.
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