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How Much Have Global Problems Cost the World?: A Scorecard from 1900 to 2050 Paperback – October 10, 2013
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'For a volume covering such a large number of grim subjects, ranging from climate change and violent conflict to loss of bioversity and malnutrition, this is a surprisingly uplifting read. While mankind has succeeded in creating some depressingly disastrous social, natural and humanitarian disasters, we also have the power to alleviate and overcome these self-inflicted challenges. Bjorn Lomborg reminds us that for every part of mankind that can destroy, there is also one part that can create.' Tilman Brück, Director, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI)
'This 150-year view of humanity's biggest challenges, measured in economic terms, gives unique data on the globe's important issues to students, teachers and the general public. Ultimately, it affords everyone the opportunity to answer with facts the questions of humanity's scorecard: are we doing better or worse? Overall, there is more good news than bad, but we could still do better.' Per Pinstrup-Andersen, H. E. Babcock Professor of Food, Nutrition and Public Policy and J. Thomas Clark Professor of Entrepreneurship, Cornell University
'This book is a bracing tonic. An excellent survey for students, teachers and the general public with a wealth of thought provoking material. If you want to know how the world is doing, and get hard, comparable numbers to back it up, this is where to go.' Alix Peterson Zwane, Executive Director, Evidence Action and the Deworm the World Initiative, and former Senior Program Officer, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
A selection of the world's leading economists discuss ten of the greatest challenges that have blighted human development since 1900, quantifying their costs in percent of GDP through to 2050. Rather than offering definitive answers, this innovative book encourages debate and will engage a wide readership.
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More needs to be done and this book should be read in conjunction with the writings of the former President of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus
The book is a collection of academic papers on trying to quantify the cost to humanity on the following 10 issues:
Water and sanitation
My big question is: Are things getting better? If you watched the news, you'd wager no. However, in order to see if things are getting better, we need to first define and measure the problem - and this is what the book attempts to do.
I'm not an academic, but the papers were written well enough to understand, and they attempted to put a cost of each problem. It made me realize that I should have paid attention more in economics classes in college, but I could grasp the fundamentals without that much effort. Some parts did leave me scratching my head and taking notes to look up later. I always thought of gender inequality as more of a human rights issue than a financial issue, so to look at it that way was new and interesting.
Overall I liked this book mainly because it put me outside of my intellectual comfort zone. Does GDP percentages really translate into a good measure for quality of life? Does everything truly have a financial cost attached to it? I felt myself arguing with my emotions and brain, and felt frustrated that I wasn't able to articulate how I felt about something like air pollution. I don't think anyone for instance says it's a good thing, but where's the trade off between minimal pollution and quality of life?
An interesting book for sure, and in a way, I wish it was written more towards the average person so it could provoke more discussions as to if the world is getting better and are we on the right track?
This book, edited by Lomborg, seeks to examine ten major issues that have, and will affect humankind: air pollution, conflicts, climate change, biodiversity, education, gender inequality, health malnutrition, trade barriers, and water and sanitation. The time period is a century and a half, 1900 to 2050. Lomborg provides a 25 page introduction, the rest of the text are the academic papers of scholars in the field, with extracts at the beginning of the book, followed by the complete paper. The papers are filled with many a graph, numerous tables, and naturally some equations that will bamboozle "the unwashed." The complete book is less than four hundred pages, and given the agenda, surely is, at least, "ambitious."
In the days of my youth I did many a physics problem, and was told to "ignore friction" or "ignore wind velocity" or "hold X constant." As a first approximation, this is a most valid approach, enabling a better understanding of gravitational laws for example. However, if you don't always remember what assumptions you make, in the real world, by ignoring wind velocity of, say, 100 mph, you might not be carrying enough fuel to fly over the Andes, for example, and you, as well as your equations, will reach terminal velocity. And in this book, I was appalled by one of Lomborg's central assumptions, and even he categorized me as in the "many." Specifically, he said: "Second, many have suggested that happiness is potentially a better measure of human welfare than GDP, and thus questions the basic unit of comparison in this project...moreover, while no one would argue that GDP is a perfect measure, it is clear that higher GDP correlates with other attractive outcomes like economic freedom, freedom from corruption (!! Explanation points added), better health and social outcomes, lower poverty, life satisfaction, etc.) I really think some health skepticism, that Lomborg proclaims, should be applied to that statement.
It was John Maynard Keynes, in the depths of the depression, who provided some of this skepticism to the shibboleths of the day, noting famously that GDP would increase if we took in each other's laundry. And long before the gazillion "labor savings devices" that we now have, he noted that there might be only 15 hours of "real work" that needed to be performed each week, with the rest relegated to "make work." So, I would have loved to have seen some papers that examined how the ten issues might be improved if GDP contracted (!), by, for example, riding a bike more often instead of a supersized pickup truck (yes, just like they do in Denmark), close many a "fast-food" restaurant, and prepare and cook meals at home, just like in the 1950's, eliminate at least one aircraft carrier battle group... etc... yes, I know, "heretical ideas," but presented in a skeptical mode.
There were a lot of other assumptions in the actual papers that I found both difficult to accept, and wondered what validity the corresponding graphs and equations held under such assumptions. Consider, in Hutton's paper on Air Pollution: "Solid fuel use is difficult to estimate, because of lack of data (!! Explanation points added) I assume solid fuel use as 50% of developed country households in 1900, with a linear rate of decline until 2010, when a 5% rate is assumed. For developing countries, I assume a 95% use in 1900..." In Blomberg and Hess' paper on Armed Conflicts: "This is a straightforward calculation which assumes there are no long-run growth costs or economic volatility costs of war." Or, "The additional cost of human losses may seem large, but in fact is quite conservative, since we do not take account of civilian deaths..." Or the clincher: "It is for reasons such as these that we have chosen to concentrate on losses of welfare due to lost consumption, which are less sensitive to these challenges." Amazing, war is bad for consumption, which is, I guess, the reason why President Bush urged all Americans to do their part after the events of 9/11/01 by still shopping.
In the 1970's, Fogel and Engerman wrote a highly controversial book entitled Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Slavery. It examined the slave system in the Southern states before the Civil War in economic terms, and concluded that slavery was highly efficient, producing such "proofs" as a "Total Factor Productivity Ratio" calculated to be 1.33. They noted "statistics" that proved that the slaves' life expectancy declined 10% after they had been freed. It should be required reading for any economist who wishes to use the tools of his profession to examine complex social issues. Regrettably, I must give Lomborg 3-stars for this effort.
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Having recently completed reading the book I have spent more than a few days...Read more