Monday, May 24, 2004

John Quiggin at Crooked Timber is running down the so-called "Copenhagen Consensus" again today. The Copenhagen Consensus is a joint project between Bjorn Lomborg's Environmental Assessment Institute and the arch-liberal (in the European sense) magazine The Economist devoted to helping Northern governments and NGOs spend their aid money in the South via answering the question "Where, among all the projects that governments might undertake to make the world a better place, are the net returns to their efforts likely to be greatest?"

Quiggin has two major qualms: [1] a general ranking of problems to be tackled (e.g. disease, education, sanitation, armed conflict) cannot be achieved uniformly for every country; and [2] as Quiggin calls it "the joker in the pack, climate change," which of course is Lomborg's pet bugbear and which Quiggin suspects the entire project is in part simply a means of obfuscating.

Two important objections indeed, but how about a third much more fundamental objection?

In the words of The Economist, "a series of distinguished experts in each field was commissioned to write a review paper on each issue and on actions that might feasibly be taken in response, with due emphasis on costs and benefits." Each topic has one expert author and The Economist publishes short summaries of each.

Of the ten experts assembled by the Copenhagen Consensus, a full ten are from universities and think tanks in the Global North.

Now if you are interested in how best to help people in the Global South, wouldn't one want to, oh, I don't know . . . ask them? Unless of course the point is not to generate actual economic development but rather do charity work (worthy work but radically different from "development") and advance "the religion of modernity".

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