Powell’s and Skarbek’s lesson is straightforward and important. But it's a lesson too often ignored by "activists" who would rather pose and prance as moral crusaders than analyze situations in ways that might actually help people. The lesson is summarized by what I call "The Economist’s Question: "As compared to what?" In and of itself, situation A is neither good nor bad; it is good or bad only in comparison with it's real alternatives. This lesson is a hard one, perhaps -- it's certainly an unromantic one -- but it's indispensable for sound analysis.
Yes. And it's the economist's job to help true activists understand alternatives.