American Gerontocracy

Generational Warfare In Our Time

Prioritizing the World’s Problems

Younger Americans tend to look at the problems of the world and demand solutions. This desire for change and progress is a significant contributor to their political philosophy and political choices.

But we only have limited resources to solve those problems. In a world where reality constrains our ability to drive change, how do we reconcile our policy initiatives with resource constraints?

This article suggests a way — simple cost / benefit analysis — with fascinating implications for real policy.

The pain caused by the global food crisis has led many people to belatedly realize that we have prioritized growing crops to feed cars instead of people. That is only a small part of the real problem.

This crisis demonstrates what happens when we focus doggedly on one specific – and inefficient – solution to one particular global challenge. A reduction in carbon emissions has become an end in itself. The fortune spent on this exercise could achieve an astounding amount of good in areas that we hear a lot less about.

Research for the Copenhagen Consensus, in which Nobel laureate economists analyze new research about the costs and benefits of different solutions to world problems, shows that just $60 million spent on providing Vitamin A capsules and therapeutic Zinc supplements for under-2-year-olds would reach 80% of the infants in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, with annual economic benefits (from lower mortality and improved health) of more than $1 billion. That means doing $17 worth of good for each dollar spent. Spending $1 billion on tuberculosis would avert an astonishing one million deaths, with annual benefits adding up to $30 billion. This gives $30 back on the dollar.

Heart disease represents more than a quarter of the death toll in poor countries. Developed nations treat acute heart attacks with inexpensive drugs. Spending $200 million getting these cheap drugs to poor countries would avert 300,000 deaths in a year.

A dollar spent on heart disease in a developing nation will achieve $25 worth of good. Contrast that to Operation Enduring Freedom, which Copenhagen Consensus research found in the two years after 2001 returned 9 cents for each dollar spent. Or with the 90 cents Copenhagen Consensus research shows is returned for every $1 spent on carbon mitigation policies.

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May 24, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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