Saturday, April 14, 2007

An economist's view on saving the world

We all know there are tons of urgent problems in the world, but we rarely try to prioritize them. Take a look at this video below (it's about 15 minutes long, but well worth it), where Danish economist Bjorn Lomborg (from the Copenhagen Consensus) asks "if you have a few billion dollars, which problem would you solve first...AIDS or climate change?", and prioritizes them purely from an economic perspective. Which problem is economically the easiest to solve (not just in terms of cost, but in terms of "return on investment"?).

Well worth your time.



I pretty much agree with their consensus, though I feel very, very strongly about many of the problems (like climate change). But I would really like to see how they estimated the costs. I would guess that they used typical economic measures (and so would have missed a lot of intangible, indirect costs that would occur with things like loss of forest cover etc).

(On a related note, you might want to read an old post of mine, The economics of conservation).

5 comments:

Ashutosh said...

Well, prioritising where to spend money is an opinion that is Lomberg's prerogative. But funneling money from climate change into AIDS research is a different story. Before Lomberg does that, why don't we funnel a part of annual US military spending into both AIDS and climate change? It would be quite enough for a few years. Lomberg is pretty good at taking advantage of slippery slopes and erecting straw men I think.

Sunil said...

.....which is why the "copenhagen consensus" isn't going to go anywhere.

But while I don't think his suggestions are in any way practical, the exercise itself (of trying to prioritize) certainly is, and it does put into perspective how little really needs to be done (relative to the scale of the problem) to effectively combat some problems. Particularly wrt infectious disease....

Shripriya said...

I think he focuses us on the solvable problems.

I was at TED when he gave this talk. He was fabulous. I posted on him here-
http://shripriya.com/blog/2006/11/11/copenhagen-consensus/

Sunil said...

shripriya....I would say he focuses on prioritizing problems by their scale of "solvability". They're all solvable.

Thanks for the link.......

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