Making a List, Checking It Twice

The Summer Olympics takes place every four years. So does another, lesser-known event: the Copenhagen Consensus Conference (CCC). The forum involves a group of established and renowned economists discussing the world’s problems, and then prioritizing ways to address those issues. A 2005 video from TED Talks features Bjørn Lomborg, a Danish political scientist, who explained the rationale behind CCC. He called the project “the defense for boring problems,” and noted that the solutions are prioritized without concern of making us, or the media, “feel good.”

Comparing the list from 2004 and 2008 shows a shift in priorities. The top four in 2004: Control of HIV/AIDS, Providing Malnutrients, Trade Liberalization, and Control of Malaria. In contrast, 2008 shows the top four as: Micronutrient Supplements for Children, The Doha Development Agenda, Micronutrient Fortification, and Expanded Immunization Coverage for Children.

The list is made with a global viewpoint – so to think about it from India’s perspective is interesting. Would the priorities still be the same for India? Also, keep in mind that this prioritization occurred from the economic mindset. I’ve always had an issue with this, since that means that a cost-benefit analysis is going to occur – which in turn means that everything must be quantified. But do the numbers always tell the full story, or is it a neat and packaged way to explain things?

In the video about the 2004 list, Mr Lomborg explains why these were listed as “good” projects instead of, say, climate change. Climate change, although picked up widely by the media, is very expensive given the little impact money has – according the video, spending $150 billion per year would postpone global warming by only six years. On the other hand, spending $27 billion over eight years on controlling HIV/AIDS would avoid 28 million new cases of the disease. Liberalizing trade would supposedly bring $2,400 billion dollars into the world, half of which would go to the Third World and help lift millions out of poverty very fast – but, as Mr Lomborg points out, movies aren’t made about trade, and it doesn’t necessarily make us “feel good.” Continue reading