Past Events

Dr. Christopher J. Coyne delivers a lecture on humanitarianism and humanitarian aid

Christopher J. Coyne, Associate Professor of Economics at George Mason University and Associate Director of the F. A. Hayek Program at the Mercatus Center, gave a lecture at The Institute of World Politics on October 20, 2015. Dr. Coyne lectured on humanitarianism and its definition. In its broadest sense, humanitarianism is a concern for the wellbeing of humans. Humanitarian action can be of either a coercive or non-coercive nature. Examples of humanitarian action that have used coercion are the West’s operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

According to Dr. Coyne, the nation-state has become an increasingly important component of humanitarian actions, especially since World War II. There is little consensus on what constitutes a successful humanitarian action; empirical research is unclear as to whether nation-state interventions into foreign countries with humanitarian concerns have been successful.

Dr. Coyne is critical of a nation-state’s ability to allocate the appropriate bandwidth of resources required to solve a humanitarian problem. Instead, humanitarian operations tend to miss their mark: either budgeting too few actual resources to solve the problem-which itself, Dr. Coyne argues, is difficult for governments to know well-or, address one problem, but at the cost of substantial waste.

Lastly, Dr. Coyne points out that a sound grasp of complex markets can help with humanitarian relief efforts. Understanding that resource distribution is a complex phenomenon makes decision-makers more cautious and less optimistic, but also more informed and pragmatic. Information on what is urgently needed is the essential foundation of successful humanitarian work.

The more immediate the time-horizon, the more accurate our information tends to be, on balance. Therefore, argues Dr. Coyne, the focus of humanitarian work by nation-states should be placed on short-term, over long-term, relief. He concludes that coercive humanitarian aid can be effective, but new attention needs to be directed to measuring effectiveness.

Christopher Coyne is the F.A. Harper Professor of Economics at George Mason University and the Associate Director of the F. A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the Mercatus Center. He is also the Co-Editor of The Review of Austrian Economics, the Co-Editor of The Independent Review, the Co-Editor of Advances in Austrian Economics, and the Book Review Editor of Public Choice. Dr. Coyne is the author of Doing Bad by Doing Good: Why Humanitarian Action Fails.

His full lecture can be viewed here.