On May 30, the Copenhagen Consensus panel will produce a prioritized list showing the best and worst investments the world could make to tackle major challenges.
Bjorn Lomborg is doing a bit of PR for the 2008 Copenhagen Consensus — results due out May 30th. If you are not familiar with the Copenhagen Consensus, here’s a series of my earlier posts. Here’s Bjorn on the food crisis:
The pain caused by the global food crisis has led many people to belatedly realize that we have prioritized growing crops to feed cars instead of people. That is only a small part of the real problem.
This crisis demonstrates what happens when we focus doggedly on one specific â€“ and inefficient â€“ solution to one particular global challenge. A reduction in carbon emissions has become an end in itself. The fortune spent on this exercise could achieve an astounding amount of good in areas that we hear a lot less about.
Research for the Copenhagen Consensus, in which Nobel laureate economists analyze new research about the costs and benefits of different solutions to world problems, shows that just $60 million spent on providing Vitamin A capsules and therapeutic Zinc supplements for under-2-year-olds would reach 80% of the infants in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, with annual economic benefits (from lower mortality and improved health) of more than $1 billion. That means doing $17 worth of good for each dollar spent. Spending $1 billion on tuberculosis would avert an astonishing one million deaths, with annual benefits adding up to $30 billion. This gives $30 back on the dollar.
…Next week, some of the world’s top economists, including five Nobel laureates, will consider new research outlining the costs and benefits of nearly 50 solutions to world problems â€“ from building dams in Africa to providing micronutrient supplements to combating climate change. On May 30, the Copenhagen Consensus panel will produce a prioritized list showing the best and worst investments the world could make to tackle major challenges.
The research and the list will encourage greater transparency and a more informed debate.
Acknowledging that some investments shouldn’t be our top priority isn’t the same as saying that the challenges don’t exist. It simply means working out how to do the most good with our limited resources. It will send a signal, too, to research communities about areas that need more study.
The global food crisis has sadly underlined the danger of continuing on our current path of fixating on poor solutions to high-profile problems instead of focusing on the best investments we could make to help the planet.
There are some good comments in the WSJ Forums, such as the first one from Robert Bennett, Lavaux, Switzerland:
Posted: Thu May 22, 2008 3:42 am Post subject: Re: How to Think About the World’s Problems
If the tag-team wrestling match to set global policy is Al Gore & Hollywood v. Egghead Economist (any will do) & the Copenhagen Consensus, I’ll put my money on Gore & Hollywood every time. The reason is simple: Politics.
Politicians don’t get credit for solving problems; politicians get credit for talking up unrealistic solutions to problems and blaming opponents for their failures. Their payday is earned by expending tons of hot air, not by actually reducing tons of carbon emissions. Change and Hope win votes, and neither of these divine agencies are limited in the slightest by opportunity costs. This isn’t cynicism; it’s an accurate description of how politics works.
I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Lomborg, and he’d get my vote every day of the week, 52 weeks of the year. But we’ll never overcome Change and Hope by pointing out that there’s more good to be done than there’s money in the world, and to keep the ball rolling we need to do good that earns a high rate of return. This is not what voters want to hear, particularly when most voters believe that someone else will always foot the bills.