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marginal analysis: copenhagen consensus 2008

Bjørn Lomborg‘s Copenhagen Consensus team of star economists (which includes five Nobel laureates) has just finished ranking the most “tackle-able” and important problems in the world; an analysis that of course is done on the margin: where can the world get the most bang for its buck? Here’s the full [pdf] report; here’s Reason Magazine’s summary; the below is a screen shot of the ranking they came up with.

Written by teppo

June 2, 2008 at 7:24 am

7 Responses

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  1. At number 30, the lowest priority is a proposal to mitigate man-made global warming

    Getting this result was the whole point of organizing the conference as far as Lomborg was concerned, right?

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    Kieran

    June 2, 2008 at 12:17 pm

  2. Perhaps. But, independent of any agendas, I find the effort interesting.

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    tf

    June 2, 2008 at 3:34 pm

  3. in the short-run our ability to solve problems is highly constrained. this group has done a good job in forcing people to realize that we must prioritize, even if you choose different priorities than they do.

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    Michael Bishop

    June 2, 2008 at 8:35 pm

  4. this group has done a good job in forcing people to realize that we must prioritize, even if you choose different priorities than they do.

    I don’t think so. Anyone with any expertise in these matters knows there are policy choices, but even though the panelists are obviously very eminent economists, few of them have any particular expertise in the topic at hand. The initial question — What to do with $75bn — does not seem a particularly useful way of framing the problem. (For instance, several cap-and-trade designs for markets in pollution credits would generate the kind of income that developing countries could spend on many of the other problems.) And the whole thing seems conceived in sin anyway, as the result of Lomborg’s desire to downplay the importance of global climate change as a problem. In The Skeptical Environmentalist he was able to adduce some decent evidence that things were better on many fronts than Greens typically claimed. But climate change was — to his disappointment — not one of those areas; so he fell back on the idea of getting some economists together to suggest that it wasn’t worth spending any money on it.

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    Kieran

    June 2, 2008 at 9:14 pm

  5. One thing the project points out is how difficult it is to prioritize social problems without bringing one’s ideological/political beliefs into it. I’m biased by my own beliefs of course (and by science), but it seems unimaginable to me that the costs of failing to do something about climate change do not exceed the costs of many of the other problems listed. That’s not to minimize the costs associated with the other problems; I’m just pointing out that the costs of climate change are especially high.

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    brayden

    June 2, 2008 at 9:38 pm

  6. “…but even though the panelists are obviously very eminent economists, few of them have any particular expertise in the topic at hand.”

    Who exactly does have expertise in analyzing things at the global level like this? I appreciate the effort given its ambitiousness. Whether the economists included are the right folks or not, somehow I doubt that the likes of Schelling, North etc could easily be co-opted to push a hidden agenda forward (though, I see your point). Undoubtedly this is all complicated stuff (for example, much of whats on the list is inter-related), but worthwhile nonetheless (without endorsing the final rankings) — I don’t think it should be readily dismissed. An alternative, of course, is to leave things to the market.

    “Anyone with any expertise in these matters knows there are policy choices…”

    I don’t know, I think we have lots of folks with pet causes, all probably legitimate (we all have them — as a side note: the Heath and Heath book actually has some interesting analysis on how causes are pushed forward). But, its interesting to step back and try to prioritize for the system as a whole (unfortunately there are trade-offs given scarce resources), something thats of course incredibly hard to do (given one’s own preferences, politics, limited information, interests, pet causes, etc).

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    tf

    June 2, 2008 at 9:54 pm

  7. I’d love to see you global warming practitioners spend one day in a sales job. You’d all be going after the impossible-close $100 million deal while ignoring the low-hanging fruit that keeps you alive. That’s what this is, folks, a list of the easier, cheaper-to-solve problems facing the world today. But no, you want to spend all the money trying to “fix” global warming. Let the malnourished children in africa die so the climate will be ok for their grandkids. Hmm, how will they have grandkids to enjoy the nice climate if they die from malnutrition? Who will be alive to pet the millions of cuddly polar bears then, hmm? Stop thinking with your political hearts and start using your logical brains and we might just get this right.

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    Tony

    June 25, 2008 at 4:01 pm


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