Development: The economics of optimism

“Development: The economics of optimism” is the title of a new article in The Economist. The focus is the U.N. proposed mega-list of 169 Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. A rational optimist gets placed front and centre in the article…

“One of the loudest voices calling for greater focus is Bjorn Lomborg, a Danish economist, who has launched the Post-2015 Consensus, an effort to draw up a shortish list of goals and targets the benefits of which, if achieved, would far outweigh the costs. Perhaps more surprising, the most beneficial measure Mr Lomborg’s teams evaluated was lowering barriers to trade, which achieves far more per dollar spent than any other option (see chart). Completing the treaty currently under negotiation at the World Trade Organisation, for example, would bring developing countries $3,426 for every dollar spent. A free-trade deal encompassing China, Japan, South Korea and the ASEAN countries would be worth $3,438 per dollar spent.


Most poverty-reduction measures are more expensive than cutting tariffs, but many are still well worth it … contraception … nursery school enrolment rate in sub-Saharan Africa … malnutrition … tuberculosis … Increasing mobile broadband penetration … stopping tax evasion in sub-Saharan Africa … worldwide availability of work visas … In contrast, the researchers question whether the benefits of efforts to curb climate change justify the costs. They are also sceptical about the UN’s push for “data for development” as part of the SDG process. According to Mr Lomborg, gathering data is hugely expensive, at around $1.5 billion per SDG target; measuring all 169 proposed targets would eat up 12.5% of total international development aid.”

And data gathering is also open to fiddling with the figures, which is presumably why few are trumpeting the “Literacy rate of 15-24 year-olds” in regard to the previous Millennium Goals. There has been widespread and systemic falsification of educational outcome statistics for government-run education in the developing world.