Doing Bad by Doing Good uses the economic way of thinking to develop the economics of humanitarianism. This approach yields four key lessons regarding humanitarian action:

1. Vulnerability is an issue of economic development.

GREATER WEALTH, and the associated higher standard of living, comes with many benefits, including greater protection from the negative effects of unanticipated humanitarian disasters and emergencies.

2. Aid is unable to promote society-wide economic development.

THOSE INVOLVED in humanitarian efforts are unable to promote societal economic progress because they suffer from the “planner’s problem,” meaning they are unable to access the relevant knowledge to best allocate resources in the face of a variety of competing, feasible alternative uses.

3. Humanitarian assistance can increase the output of short-term relief—e.g., food, water, healthcare, shelter—to those in need.

DESPITE THIS possibility, I am highly skeptical of the ability of state-led humanitarian efforts to effectively provide short-term relief in a consistent manner across cases of suffering. Political institutions are characterized by inefficiencies that make persistent resource misallocation and waste the norm instead of the exception.

4. Economic freedom is the best means to achieve the end of raising standards of living and, therefore, minimizing human suffering.

THE CONDITIONS underpinning economic freedom—protection of property rights, private means of production, and free trade in labor and goods—provide an environment free of coercion in which people can engage in the process of discovery and experimentation necessary for economic development. This process is messy and will often appear misguided to outsiders, but it is the only way to achieve society-wide development.

DOING BAD by Doing Good considers a wide range of interventions and offers a bold alternative to state-led humanitarian action, focused on establishing an environment of economic freedom. If we are willing to experiment by viewing development as a process of societal discovery, we increase the range of alternatives to help people and empower them to improve their well being.

ANYONE CONCERNED with and dedicated to alleviating human suffering—from policymakers and activists to scholars and students—will find this book to be an insightful reframing of humanitarian action.