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How to Spend $50 Billion to Make the World a Better Place [Paperback]

Bjørn Lomborg
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Book Description

June 12 2006 0521832209 978-0521832205 1
Edited by Bjørn Lomborg, this abridged version of the highly acclaimed Global Crises, Global Solutions provides a serious yet accessible springboard for debate and discussion on the world's most serious problems, and what we can do to solve them. In a world fraught with problems and challenges, we need to gauge how to achieve the greatest good with our money. This unique book provides a rich set of dialogs examining ten of the most serious challenges facing the world today: climate change, the spread of communicable diseases, conflicts and arms proliferation, access to education, financial instability, governance and corruption, malnutrition and hunger, migration, sanitation and access to clean water, and subsidies and trade barriers. Each problem is introduced by a world-renowned expert who defines the scale of the issue and examines a range of policy options.

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From Publishers Weekly

This abridged version of the much admired Global Crises, Global Solutions pulls together recommendations of the Copenhagen Consensus, a meeting that asked what problems experts and policy-makers should address, given $50 billion to use as they please. Ten areas of inquiry are covered: disease, civil war, education, global warming, trade barriers, population migration, poor or corrupt governance, and water scarcity. Although those involved found many points of agreement, the dissimilar particulars of each case are laid out so that the casual reader can grasp major issues and viewpoints that otherwise might overwhelm. Along with specialists, the overviews of economists are featured in order to give balance to experts more interested in their pet issues. Disclaimers such as "however" appear frequently, an acknowledgement that a long-run view involving complex problems, undeniably confusing economic calculations and the stubborn unpredictability of future events is more than a bit tricky to address; in deference to that reality, each article concludes with an opposing argument from additional researchers present at the Consensus. This small volume reflects an admirable undertaking, gracefully explained for those interested in guarding the future.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

“This is a stimulating intellectual game with important real-world consequences. Lomborg asks all of us to stop talking grandly and vaguely about solving global problems and instead to rank them - based not only on the potential harm they can cause but also on our ability to turn things around. To govern is to choose and this pithy book forces us to choose.”
-Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek columnist and author of The Future of Freedom

“The world's staggering problems won't be solved by singing pop songs, denouncing villains, or adopting the proper moral tone, but by figuring out which policies have the best chance of doing the most good. If the world is going to become a better place, it will be because of the kinds of thinking on display in this courageous and fascinating book.”
-Steven Pinker, Professor, Harvard University, and author of How the Mind Works and The Blank Slate

“This book helps you make up your own mind, prioritize, and make your own choice. Just in time.”
-Kevin Roberts, CEO Worldwide, Saatchi & Saatchi, and author of Lovemarks: The Future Beyond Brands

“Bjørn Lomborg and his economist colleagues have produced a fascinating and unexpected consensus, which can start a debate about global priorities: Should we prioritize a costly and uncertain attempt to reduce effects of global warming in a hundred years time while millions are dying for lack of mosquito nets or condoms?”
-Matt Ridley, author of Nature via Nurture

"This small volume reflects an admirable undertaking, gracefully explained for those interested in guarding the future"
-Publishers Weekly

"Lomborg's Copenhagen Consensus Center has posed a challenging question: If we had an additional $50 billion to spend on mitigating global problems, how should we spend it? To suggest answers, the center convened a panel of eight distinguished economists to evaluate proposals by over two dozen specialists on problems ranging from AIDS and malnutrition to water shortage, civil war, climate change, and migration, among others. Their collective recommendation: focus on AIDS prevention, the provision of micronutrients to poor children, trade liberalization, and the control of malaria. Their choices were determined by the expected payoff, largely but not wholly in economic terms, that each of these programs could generate relative to its cost. Some issues, such as civil war, could not be evaluated in general terms and so were not ranked. The motivating principle of the exercise was that resources are limited, political leaders must make choices, and those choices should be governed by where the most good can be done for humanity -- especially for those who are so poor that they cannot look beyond where their next meal is coming from."
-Foreign Affairs

"Great book title and a thought-provoking exercise, whether or not one agrees with the worldview and methods of economists."
-Future Survey

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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Infuriating Dec 3 2007
By CraigAS
Format:Paperback
I found this book hugely frustrating to read. When I read sentences that start with the words: "research shows that..." or "scientists think that..." I want to know WHO said that and WHAT research! There is no bibliography of the "600 journal articles" that provided the source material, no citations or references. In addition, the book is littered with (sometimes complicated) figures and graphs that are not only difficult to interpret, but virtually NEVER referred to in the articles. Its almost as if they were thrown in there as an afterthought. There is no glossary of economic terms, so if you aren't familiar with things like gross domestic product or utility-based discounting, you have to flip back to the part of the book where that was explained, and sometimes this economic jargon simply ISN'T explained.
Content-wise, it is an interesting experiment, but the brief is so narrow as to be useless. Kym Anderson's chapter on eliminating subsidies and trade barriers is a joke. She aptly shows that eradicating all trade barriers raises everyones standard of living, but skips over the fact (obvious, if you look closely at her figures) that eliminating trade barriers will benefit the developed world disproportionately compared to the undeveloped world. This would surely have the effect of maintaining, or even expanding, the gap between rich and poor countries and maintaining the status quo between haves and have-nots. How on earth would that "make the world a better place?"
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
37 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A lot of food for thought about priorities and values... July 23 2006
By Dr. Jonathan Dolhenty - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book may have a catchy title but it deals with many serious problems. It is an abridged edition of "Global Crises, Global Solutions," a work which brought together recommendations of the Copenhagen Consensus. The 2004 Copenhagen Consensus was an international meeting held in Copenhagen, Denmark, and included a debate among 38 of the world's top economists and an expert panel of eight top economists, each of whom prepared a paper on various global problems which were then presented to the whole group for discussion and criticism. The main question put to the conference was certainly a timely one: "If we had an extra $50 billion to put to good use, which problems would we solve first?" Hence the title of the book.

The expert panel inquired into nine global challenges in an order of importance and presented proposals for addressing these challenges. They were guided "predominately by consideration of 'economic costs' and 'benefits'" -- something one would expect from economists considering these issues. The challenges include climate change, the spread of communicable diseases, conflicts and civil wars, access to education, poor governance and corruption, malnutrition and hunger, population migration, sanitation and access to clean water, and subsidies and trade barriers. A tenth challenge dealt with international financial instability, but the panel chose not to come to a view about any proposals to recommend.

The challenge which ranked first of concern to the Copenhagen group was within the area of communicable disease, specifically controlling the spread of HIV/AIDS through new measures of prevention. The estimated cost of this investment was set at $27 billion, more than half of the $50 billion limit. In second place was providing micronutrients, which fell into the malnutrition and hunger category, at a suggested cost of $12 billion. Next was trade liberalization in the subsidies and trade barriers category (minimal cost), then control of malaria within the communicable disease category. These were chosen as the four best opportunities to change the world at this time. Population migration and climate change challenges were at the bottom of the list of proposals. In the book a chapter is devoted to each of the nine major categories and each includes an introduction by an expert or experts, followed by a summary of opposing views by other participants.

As I was reading through the book, I found myself in a constant dialogue with the various writers and with the whole project in general, asking questions and challenging the ranking. I questioned why the HIV/AIDS proposal, for instance, ranked number one. I questioned why the issue of conflicts and civil wars was not ranked at all; it wasn't even included in the ranking table. I questioned why poor governance and corruption was ranked only ninth, below the proposals in the sanitation and access to clean water category. I would have ranked poor governance and corruption as number one or two and would have ranked conflicts and civil wars right before or after it. Why was I so far off from the ranking priorities of these economists?

Then it dawned on me. These were economists! They were all economists! They looked at these challenges from the viewpoint of economists, primarily considering cost-benefit ratios and so forth. Then I recalled something from Lomborg's introduction to the book. He had written: "Why were all the experts economists? Many have questioned this. The goal for the Copenhagen Consensus was to set priorities using the expertise of economists to set economic priorities." And that explained it. I am not a trained economist. I was trained as a political scientist and I was looking at political priorities. From my perspective, little can be achieved regarding disease prevention, access to education, malnutrition and hunger, sanitation and access to clean water, and such, until a political situation is formatted and stabilized. My concern, therefore, would naturally be toward the categories of poor governance and corruption and conflict and civil wars and suggesting proposals to resolve those issues -- first.

This, of course, has nothing to do with who is right and who is wrong, or who possesses the "true" program for making the world a better place. It's a matter of one's perspective. The economists were quite correct in looking at solutions from a cost-benefit point of view. I needed to change my perspective. And the major contribution of this book to my thinking is that it forced me to do so. It didn't take me long to realize that with "only" $50 billion to spend, I would run out of money very fast if I spent it on trying to bring about good governance and eliminate political corruption throughout the world. My ranking would have been "impractical" and most likely doomed to failure. After all, the American government's war and reconstruction in Iraq is costing billions of dollars a month! (And not currently achieving all that much, either.)

So I read back through the book again with a different attitude, adopting a different mindset. I then decided if any realistic, substantial change in the world is to come about, it would have to materialize along the line that these economists had suggested. If we only have $50 billion to spend, then we probably ought to spend it on those goals that can be realistically achieved and these economists were approaching things more realistically than I initially was. If we can prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS by spending $27 billion on the problem, then I say "Go for it!" If we can solve a part of the malnutrition and hunger problem by spending $12 billion, then I say "Let's do it!"

This is an excellent book for anyone who wonders: "If I only had $50 billion to spend, how would I make the world a better place to live?" This is a thought-provoking book which will force readers to rethink their priorities and values, and may provide them with a new perspective toward the very real challenges we all face today in the international arena.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Global Warming Distracts from the World's Truly Pressing Problems Feb. 22 2010
By Jay Lehr - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Given tens of billions of dollars to protect the planet and improve the human condition, how would those dollars best be spent?

Some of the world's leading social economists were recently asked to tackle this question, and former Greenpeace activist Bjorn Lomborg has reported on the results in his excellent book, How to Spend $50 Billion to Make the World a Better Place.

"Green" is now a major world religion, and the belief in anthropogenic global warming is evidently the pathway to heaven. Actually, it looks more to me like a religious cult from an old Indiana Jones movie, but its greatest crime is the wasting of the world's economic resources when they could so easily be used to solve many of the real problems of the developing world.

Tackling Human Misery

This book is written in readable economic language, concisely placed on only 208 pages, containing nine chapters dealing with communicable diseases, civil wars, the lack of education, poor governance, corruption, hunger and malnutrition, population migration, water, subsidies and trade barriers, and global warming. Each subject is covered by one or more authors and then critiqued by someone with slightly opposing views.

The second half of the twentieth century brought enormous improvements in health across the world. In fact, life expectancy in developing countries has increased faster than in industrialized countries, although this is easier done because of a lower initial baseline. Areas such as sub-Saharan Africa, however, have largely been left behind.

An early example of the excellent facts contained in Lomborg's text tells us, "in 2002 there were 57 million deaths worldwide. Of these 20 percent were children under five, and 98 percent of these childhood deaths occurred in developing countries." Communicable diseases account for seven of the top 10 causes, resulting in 60 percent of premature childhood deaths.

Desperate Need for DDT

One downside of Lomborg's environmental activist roots is evident in the chapter covering malaria. While malaria kills two million people each and every year and exacts a huge burden on Third World economies, the book fails to mention DDT, the most effective weapon against malaria, among its proposed solutions.

In fact, the acronym DDT appears absolutely nowhere in the text, proving the contributing economist authors have been brainwashed by the environmental zealots who have allowed, if not caused, the deaths of more than 50 million people worldwide over the past 30 years by banning a chemical that's harmless to humans and animals but kills and repels mosquitoes effectively.

Lomborg himself proposes treated bed nets, which pale in comparison to the effectiveness of targeted, indoor DDT applications.

Cost of Conflict

Moving on to a less-frustrating section, I will wager few readers have seen real-dollar calculations for the economic effects of reducing the incidence of civil war. Paul Collier and Anke Hoeffler, two contributing authors to the book, tell us, "one year of conflict reduces a country's growth rate by 2.2 percent. Since, on average, civil conflict lasts for seven years, the economy will be 15 percent smaller at the end of the war than if the war had not taken place."

They also inform us it takes an average of 21 years for an economy to get back to its prewar condition. At the regional level, analysis shows the growth rate of neighboring countries not directly involved in the conflict is reduced nearly a full percent during the war.

Excluding India and China, the 21 countries that were involved in wars between 1965 and 1969 each suffered an average of $54 billion in economic costs. While this is indeed a significant figure, Collier and Hoeffler tell us countries that have experienced a civil war are almost twice as likely to experience another civil war over the next five years as those that did not.

This is fascinating stuff and makes one respect the humorless but altruistic and useful effort of economists to measure human misery in dollars and cents.

Costs of Corruption

Contributor Susan Rose-Ackerman brilliantly describes the challenge of poor governance and corruption. She notes researchers at the World Bank estimate governments are influenced by $1 trillion in bribes annually, which is 3 percent of global GDP.

Rose-Ackerman says, "Corruption is one symptom of a failure to achieve an appropriate balance between private wealth and public power." Ineffective government breeds corruption. Thus policies focusing solely on economic growth will not be sufficient to reduce corruption if the state is not well-governed.

But compared to other global challenges such as hunger, disease, and conflict, corruption is too often overlooked as a root cause of the world's problems. Rose-Ackerman tells us, "There seems to be two ways to limit corruption via grassroots involvement: monitoring the use of central funds and reporting misuse, or local provision of service under contract."

Fighting Hunger, Malnutrition

The chapter on hunger and malnutrition reviews the nature and scale of the problem and the economic benefits that would flow from successful solutions.

They propose four opportunity areas for effectively reducing malnutrition: Reduce the prevalence of low birth weight; promote infant and child nutrition and exclusive breast feeding; reduce the prevalence of deficiencies in iron, vitamin A, iodine, and zinc deficiencies; and invest in technology to assist agriculture in developing countries.

To reduce the prevalence of iron, iodine, vitamin A, and zinc deficiencies, the authors are confident additional micronutrients can be delivered in a variety of ways including fortified flour, the use of iron skillets, and an all-out effort to provide vitamin supplements at extremely low cost.

Water Distribution Problems

Frank Rijsberman's chapter, "The Water Challenge," is quite outstanding. It's important because nearly half the population of the developing world suffers disease related to access to clean water and sanitation.

His opening paragraph nails the problem: "There is clearly sufficient water available in the world for all mankind's needs: domestic, industrial, and agricultural, although distributed very unevenly. The problem is not lack of water, but that the unserved do not have access to capital (financial or political) to make it available to them."

Rijsberman tells us poor returns from centralized water infrastructure projects have shown such projects are best managed at the local government or community level. Additionally, he notes, there is evidence government is not necessarily a better provider of water service than the private sector.

Encouraging Trade

Kym Anderson does a nice job sorting through barriers to economic growth. The main thing, the author says, is to press for free trade.

Anderson reports economic gains "arise from countries producing more of the goods and services they can provide most efficiently, and less of what others can produce more efficiently. Each country will maximize the value of its output of goods or services and these will be sought by trading partners because they are competitively priced. After trading, each individual country will be better off than in a world without trade."

Evidence gathered during the second half of the twentieth century shows countries that have liberalized their trade have enjoyed an average 1.5 percent increase in annual GDP growth over the pre-reform rate.

Warming Money Wasted

In the end, unfortunately, Lomborg tackles global warming in a most unsatisfactory manner. Sound scientific objections to global warming alarmism are altogether absent from the book. Despite this deficiency, Lomborg certainly does not recommend precious economic resources be spent on global warming.

As the book shows, the massive amount of financial resources needed to cause even a minor change in future temperatures would be far better spent addressing many of the problems described in the book, as they are already killing and impoverishing millions of people each year.

The book is a quick and easy read. While not all its answers are simple or definitive, it is guaranteed to open your eyes to the real problems of the world--and to the absurd waste of resources promoted by the wrongheaded do-gooders so prevalent in the world today.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Jay Lehr, Ph.D. (lehr@heartland.org) is science director of The Heartland Institute.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A simple and important idea Nov. 4 2007
By JJ vd Weele - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This books reviews the outcomes of the so-called Copenhagen consensus, in which a panel of distinguished economists try to rank the policy solutions to the most important problems that face the world today in terms of their costs and benefits. The problems include climate change, hunger and malnutrition, preventable diseases, conflicts and civil wars etc. The book gives a short outline of each proposed policy presented by experts in the field, then a critical evaluation of each policy and finally a comment of the resulting ranking.

This is an interesting work for several reasons. First, if you are not familiar with the Copenhagen Consensus the book is guaranteed to provoke you. The core idea is at the same time simple and extremely controversial (see below), as is the actually produced ranking. Second, because each chapter treats one problem presented and criticized by experts, it is a good opportunity to become a little bit of an expert yourself.
I say 'a little bit' because the chapters are severely truncated from the earlier, complete version of this book, and leave many open questions. Reading it is therefore rather unsatisfactory at times. At the same time the text is often dry. Saying that this is a popular version that is aimed at the general public solves the first issue but makes the second more salient. Anyway, these presentational issues aside, it is a rewarding shortcut to an important work of global citizenship.

As for the central idea behind the Copenhagen Consensus: I sympathize greatly with it (although I can find some fault with its execution). In this age where everybody talks about globalization, it is about time that somebody took an integrated view to the world's problems. Since it is clear that there is not enough money to solve them all now, a pragmatic approach like this is exactly what is needed.

Some critics object that cost benefit-analysis is demeaning when talking about human life. I think what they really mean is that the costs and benefits that they find important have not been included. Of course cost benefit-analysis has its problems that are also apparent in this book. It fails when uncertainties become too big, and the impact of some problems on future generations is just very hard to estimate. It also has to rely on valuations of human life that are in some instances very controversial.

But the critics have to face the fact that there are no completely satisfactory solutions to these issues. Does that mean we should do nothing? I think that the setup of the conference, based on a discussion of experts that have to convince a jury of economists (experts in cost-benefit judgements), does a good job at minimalizing concerns of inclusiveness and to a lesser extent valuation. It may also interest critics of the economist's panel to know that a panel of international and interdisciplinary students came up with almost exactly the same ranking as the economists did.

What I do find puzzling is the amounts of money allocated to each project. In the setup, each project has a cost chosen by the expert, and can be either wholly adopted or not adopted at all. It would have made more sense to sketch how much can be accomplished by allocating different amounts to each problem and then let the experts decide on the final amounts. Otherwise, a good start, let's hope to see more on this!
4.0 out of 5 stars An overly short overview Nov. 11 2012
By Mec - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Just what it says on the tin. Lomborg chairs a panel of economists who analyze ten possible charitable interventions and rank them for effectiveness using cost-benefit analysis.

This book is condensed from a longer, more detailed work with the original papers and their reviews. Unfortunately, too much is cut. There aren't enough references for me to learn more and the overall tone becomes too take-my-word-for-it. I am not saying the authors are wrong. I'm saying it's difficult for me to corroborate their claims.

Still, this analysis is much better than nothing, and well beyond judging charities by their public relations material. I have a certain amount of money to available to make the world a better place, and this book has helped me allocate it. I'm still looking for a better book in this category, though.
4.0 out of 5 stars Commonsense March 13 2009
By D. Scatena - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I greatly enjoyed this little book as well as the Skeptical Environmentalist. Lomborg applies real world cost-benefit economics to our limited resources. So many so called charitable causes are completely unjustified when compared to other possible uses of the money.
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