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How to Spend $75 Billion to Make the World a Better Place Hardcover – June 1, 2013
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I have served on four Copenhagen Consensus committees of experts since 2004. All involved hard choices among attractive alternatives to meet crucial objectives for development and health. And the reason I keep serving? I learn so much. --Thomas C. Schelling Nobel Laureate in Economics
The Copenhagen Consensus brings together an impressive roster of minds. Not everyone agrees with the composition and ordering of Lomborg's priorities lists, of course - climate change tends to rank further down the list than many stakeholders would like, for example - but as a point of departure for discussion, the exercise of priority-setting is a sound one. --Tom Zeller Jr.The Huffington Post
Copenhagen Consensus is an outstanding, visionary idea and deserves global coverage. ---- The Economist
What could world leaders have achieved if they hadn't spent the past 25 years investing so much money and summitry on global warming? In a brilliant book, How to Spend $75 Billion to Make the World a Better Place, Lomborg has documented how politicians could have been tackling more pressing problems facing the world's poorest people. Action on HIV/Aids, for example, the provision of micro nutrients to hungry children, the control of malaria, guarantees of clean water and the liberalisation of trade would all have been better uses of politicians' time and taxpayers' money. ---- Tim Montgomerie, The Times
About the Author
Bjørn Lomborg is an adjunct professor at Copenhagen Business School. He founded and directs the Copenhagen Consensus Center, which ranks the smartest solutions to the world s biggest problems using cost-benefit analysis. He wrote The Skeptical Environmentalist and Cool It, which was also featured in an eponymous award-winning documentary. TIME Magazine named him as one of the 100 most influential people in the world, and according to the Guardian (UK) he is one of the 50 people who could save the planet. Lomborg has repeatedly been named one of Foreign Policy's Top 100 Global Thinkers.
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Top Customer Reviews
However, this project is undermined if two conditions arise: 1. the priority order of goals cannot be agreed upon, or 2. if the set of goals contain individual goals that contradict other ones. First, from the divergence of priorities among the Nobel Laureates the reader sees that experts disagree. The Nobel Laureate's list of 25 or so priorities generally include immunization, fresh water, sanitiation, or solar radiation management (i.e. dispersing sulfates into the upper atmosphere for climate stability), but in different rankings. So, from the outset one can witness serious disagreement even among the highly credentialed panel. Could the problem be even worse than different funding levels for different goals? The answer is, "Yes."
The deeper problem is whether the goals not only can't be prioritized well but whether they contradict. It could be said that immunization without family planning is like driving fast but not wearing a seat belt (there were days before Ralph Nader's campaign that this was commonplace). One cannot work well without the other. To put it more directly, Lomborg's plan will take the world population up to approx. 9 billion, at which point population must be stabilized and levelled to prevent another doubling and near certain mass famine (which is a polite way of saying there will also be mass violence and unspeakable crimes). Lomborg leaves me wondering what measures will come into play at that point, of his projected goal or helplessly accepted assumption of world population of 9 billion. If there is no clear and fair plan now - in 2014 as the world's population is growing at approx. 200,000 people per day - why would there be a revelation or breakthrough in family planning when the world population is at 9 billion? Or how about at another doubling, at 18 billion? No one wants to genuinely contemplate the privacy and reproductive rights (but the Chinese did, or had to, with a One Child Policy). Given Lomborg and CC's utilitarian approach and support of human health and happiness for the greatest overall numbers and greatest quantity, a thoroughly 19th century Bentham-Mill approach, this would seem to lead to a calculation that prioritizes family planing. It also needs to be said that a thoroughly civilized family planning approach instead of a brutal one is more viable now than when population becomes so large than another fifty percent growth or doubling of population would lead to mass famine. There will be an existential point of decision about world population, for the total plant mass or phytomass on the planet is limited by the Sun's energy and nutrient availability. It is a mathematical certainty that if human population exceeds the carrying capacity (in total figures, a dire prospect with little room for other mammals, land and ocean animals) then calorie reduction per person (on average) would ensue.
It is so overwhelming that policymakers have decided, in the speeches about world population of 9 billion or 14 billion (who knows where it will be in the late 21st century) that it is a problem that will solve itself. The reasoning is that we'll be on average so much wealthier by then that people will on average choose to have one or two children per family, and then a magical global population plateau will occur. The truth is that there will always be pockets of low population and high population growth -- unless family planning on a global basis occurs. It is a matter of responsibility taking on equal importance to personal freedom. Personal freedom that nearly always results in poverty or starvation (in parts of the world of 14B or more people) is not authentic freedom after all.
At least Warren Buffett was thinking this way - of making family planning the number one goal - before he decided to send most of his fortune to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, partly out of his belief that they were better managers of his assets than he or his successors would be. The population question could overwhelm world policymakers if its resolution is delayed. This is also the opinion of the exceedingly high IQ author Christopher Michael Langan, who speaks about this challenge in part of his book "The Art of Knowing" and in a "First Person" series interview with Erroll Morris.
If anyone doubts that human population is not a problem, please publish a paper on how a world with one more doubling will feed itself well: that is, how to properly provide food for 14 billion people. Just remember, many readers near retirement age have already seen the world population double once in their lives. Consider yourself from a high school student's perspective, growing up with 7 billion world population. Doubling is conceivable and may well be likely. What will the world look like as today's high school students near retirement and there are 14 billion who need quality food every day?
The book is not a good read. The solutions are presented, the conclusion described and then five Nobel Prize winning economists present their ideas. Then the cost benefit ratios for all the options are briefly described. The book is a collection of essays with the most important parts being the cost benefit ratios that are essentially just presented.
The best options for spending have been, in order, micronutrients for children, fighting malaria, immunisation, deworming, fighting TB and R & D spending on agriculture.
The idea behind the Copenhagen Consensus is a really good one and the basic idea, that of applying standard accounting and economics practices to evaluating aid is a really valuable contribution. Micronutrient spending seems to have benefited from people reading the conclusion.
The weaknesses of the approach are in the accuracy of the cost benefit analysis and trying to apply it to things like reducing corruption and increasing free trade. These things would increase wealth substantially but are very difficult to achieve in practice.
The book may be worth having as a reference but it's not nearly as interesting or as well put together as Lomborg's other books.