How would you spend $10 billion?

Controversial Danish scientist Bjorn Lomborg, best known for expressing doubts about environmental priorities, asks a very interesting question in the Wall Street Journal this week. How would you spend $10 billion:


If you had a spare $10 billion over the next four years, how would you spend it to achieve the most for humanity?

This is a small amount compared to rich-government budgets. But if we could set aside an extra $10 billion, we could achieve an awful lot.

Would you spend your money tackling diseases like malaria, HIV and tuberculosis, which claim millions of lives each year? Would you battle hunger and malnutrition? What about climate change, which many believe is the biggest challenge facing the planet?

To get the most bang for your buck -- and ensure that your generosity does the greatest good for the largest number of people -- you will need to prioritize, weighing up the costs and benefits of different options. Unfortunately, we too often focus on the most fashionable spending options, rather than the most rational. Spending an extra dollar cutting C02 to combat climate change generates less than one dollar of good, even when we add up all the economic and environmental benefits. In contrast, a dollar spent on research and development into cleaner energy technology generates $11 of economic good. If that dollar was spent combating heart disease in the third world, it would achieve more than twice that again.

Copenhagen Consensus commissioned eight of the world's top economists to identify the global challenges that can be solved most cost-effectively. Over the coming weeks, we will be challenging decision makers and opinion leaders to weigh in on this debate. We also encourage you to go to OpinionJournal.com and respond to this article with your own priorities.

The economists commissioned by the Copenhagen Consensus argue that investment in anit-terrorism and climate change mitigation are not cost-effective, but they do find that investments in reducing disease and hunger in the third world are great investments. Read it all here.

Gee, who knew that the Wall Street Journal editorial pages would be devoted to such an effective argument in favor of the Millennium Development Goals!

How would you spend the $10 billion?

Comments (3)

Excellent question, Chuck!

I think I'd choose to spend it to wean us off fossil fuels. I know, I know, climate change spending not effective, hunger in the developing world a big issue...but they're not separate compartmentalized issues either. One of our fundamental problems is since the "Green Revolution" providing enough food for the 6 billion--and growing!--people on the planet is entirely dependent upon cheap oil and the natural gas essential to fertilizer production--according to current paradigms.

And that's what needs to change--our whole paradigms of how we create and utilize energy. It's obvious that any sound strategy begins with using less. We all know that; doing it is something else again...

So that'd be my pick.

(And just to hedge my bets, I'd but a chunk towards microloans for developing world women. Those tend to have a very high social success rate...)

The immediate benefit of combating climate change might be less than $1 of good, but if one believes NASA, the NOAA, the IPCC, and all the others, then the economic harm that would come when Miami, New York, and Hong Kong all move inland as climate refugees would be a bit more than that dollar. So it seems worth it to me, not that climate change is purely an economic issue to be boiled down like this. You can't put a price on the existence of the future.

Nathan Empsall

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