Saturday, October 23, 2004

Lessons for a Small Planet: The Foolishness of the Copenhagen Consensus

If you have been following the Copenhagen Consensus project supported by the Economist magazine and Bjorn Lomberg, Tom Burke does an excellent job of demolishing the assumptions behind the Copehagen Consensus.

Selected quote:

Cost-benefit analysis can help you choose different routes to a goal you have agreed, but it cannot help you choose goals. For that we have politics. People disagree about priorities and they do so on a huge variety of legitimate grounds. When they do so, they are not arguing about value for money, but about the kind of world they want to live in.

It is a vanity of economists to believe that all choices can be boiled down to calculations of monetary value. In the real world, outcomes are not so easily managed. A stable climate is something we might now call a system condition for civilisation. That is, it is something without which civilisation is impossible - though it is not, of course, itself a guarantee that there will be civilisation.

The messy world we live in is one in which an unstable climate will guarantee poverty for untold millions. But it is equally one in which, if we fail to solve the problem of poverty much more quickly and cleverly than we are doing at present, we will continue to destabilise the climate. The Lomborg argument that we can delay one until we have solved the other is a cruelly false prospect.

No comments: