Imagine: "Policy proposals are selected based on cost-benefit analyses, not the whims of politicians"


Bjorn Lomborg

Indian states use Copenhagen Consensus evidence on priorities

The Economist recently featured an article on the India Consensus project as its top Asia story in print, discussing a development path forward for India. The world-renowned magazine asks:

"What if, instead of promoting favoured schemes, Indian governments instead challenged experts to propose the cleverest interventions they could think of? What if they then got economists to calculate, as objectively and scientifically as possible, their likely cost-benefit ratios? And what if they then compared these numbers and adopted policies based on which projects promised the biggest bang for the buck?"

The article includes research from the Rajasthan Priorities project, which recently culminated with a major event in Jaipur featuring prominent economists including the head of Indian Prime Minister Modi's Economic Advisory Council, Bibek Debroy.

Upon reviewing and ranking more than 70 policy proposals in terms of their effectiveness, the Eminent Panel and Bjorn Lomborg presented the results to all the Principal Secretaries and the Chief Secretary of Rajasthan's government, and met for 50min with Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje (as reported by DNA India). She strongly appreciated the project and committed to trialling some top proposals.

Andhra Pradesh to use new findings on top priorities

With 50 million inhabitants in Andhra Pradesh facing many challenges, what should be the top priorities for policy-makers, civil society, donors and businesses? With limited resources and time, it is crucial that focus is informed by what will do the most good for each rupee spent.

After three days of deliberations and engagement with esteemed economists who wrote 1,000+ pages of new research, the Andhra Pradesh Priorities Eminent Panel of economists, including Nobel laureate Prof. Finn Kydland, presented a prioritized list of 77 interventions for social development and economic growth in the state capital Vijayawada.

Two education interventions are among the top-ten priorities chosen by the Eminent Panel: teaching children in groups at the right level, and computer-assisted learning. Every rupee spent on these could achieve more than sixty rupees in benefits, by improving lifelong earnings.

Two nutrition efforts – improving micronutrient provision at ANC visits, and an education campaign to promote hand-washing – also appear among the top-ten priorities, based on new research by the Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi showing phenomenal returns to society, worth 40-60 times investment.

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu welcomed the findings and said that he intended to continuously work with the project team. “It’s a very good study and I am very happy with it. I invite Andhra Pradesh Priorities to present an Action Plan for implementation,” he told the Eminent Panel.

Many of India's biggest publications reported on the event and the policy recommendations, including the world's largest circulating English language newspaper The Times of India, Southern India's most influential daily The Hindu, The New Indian Express, Money Control, Business Standard, and The Hans India.

Inspire all 29 Indian states to make every rupee go further

On June 14, 2018, Bjorn Lomborg presented the India Consensus prioritization methodology at NITI Aayog, the Indian government's policy think tank. The event in Delhi was attended by Planning Secretaries of all 29 States and two Union Territories along with representatives from most ministries under the aegis of Vice-chair Dr Rajiv Kumar and CEO Shri Amitabh Kant.

Both Dr Kumar and Shri Kant appreciated the process, reaffirmed that they want to see it used for the SDGs, for other states, and for aspirational districts. Several states have indicated they would be interested in taking prioritization forward.

The event was reported by multiple media outlets including Business Standard, India Today and Money Control.

What policies do the most to reduce extreme poverty?

In fighting poverty, we should be skeptical of silver bullets and ensure that every policy, however well intentioned, receives deep scrutiny. That rules out some of the most hyped measures, including most microcredit schemes and debt waivers. Instead, we should favor policies shown to make the biggest improvements in the lives of the worst-off, such as TB care, access to family planning, and investment in nutrition.

Read Bjorn Lomborg's new column for Project Syndicate in six languages. It was published by newspapers around the world, including The Independent (Nigeria), Shanghai Daily (China), The Sunday Times (Sri Lanka), My Republica (Nepal), La Nacion (Costa Rica), El Observador (Uruguay), The New Times (Rwanda), Times of Oman, and Finmag (Czech Republic).

Why expenditure on clean water and sanitation needs to be increased

Nearly half of global deaths from diarrhoea occur in India, and most of these 800,000 annual deaths are due to a lack of clean drinking water and sanitation. Prime Minister Modi has made both a priority, but what policies will do the most to help?

New research for India Consensus shows that improving drinking water supply by having piped water to dwelling, as well as improving sanitation yields benefits to society worth about 3-5 times their cost in Andhra Pradesh and 4-7 times in Rajasthan.

Bjorn Lomborg and Manorama Bakshi discuss the smartest solutions in an op-ed for Business Standard.

Expanding India's city limits

India is poised to more than double its urban population during the next 20 years. This swift growth places huge pressure on infrastructure that in very few cases was ever designed with so many people in mind. Notably, the duration of water supply in Indian cities ranges from 1-6 hours; only about 21 percent of wastewater generated is treated; and less than one-third of municipal solid waste is segregated.

Two new research papers help understand which policies will be most effective to help improve fast-growing Indian urban centres. The findings suggest that of the three policies evaluated, the strongest option is the supply of 24x7 piped water, giving benefits worth more than 2 times the costs in Rajasthan and more than 3 times the costs in Andhra Pradesh.

Read Bjorn Lomborg and Saleema Razvi's op-ed in India's biggest business newspaper, The Economic Times.

Easing access to electricity in rural India

Access to electricity is critical for a modern economy, and a key driver of social and economic development. In India, rural areas had electrification rates of 74% compared to 97% in urban areas in 2016. New research for Rajasthan Priorities examines the best ways to close these gaps and provide energy to the ‘last mile’ of rural households.

However, the options of diesel generator based microgrids, grid electrification and solar microgrids break just about even in terms of their societal benefit compared to their cost.

Lomborg and Manorama Bakshi argue in Financial Express that considering these options alongside other research papers for India Consensus that often generate benefits to society worth several times the costs, it is fair to question whether ‘last mile’ electricity access should be a top priority for limited funds.

Lomborg on social media:

As problems get partially fixed, we tend to redefine the problem

Improving the flow of crops to markets is more important than micro-credits or waiving debt

Al Gore's climate adviser admits 100% renewables is fantastical

Ecosystem services are generally common, and so they aren't valuable

If you really want to help poor people, don't waste money on climate policies

Indian states would enjoy an economic boon if they reduce domestic violence

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About Bjorn Lomborg and the Copenhagen Consensus 

Dr. Bjorn Lomborg researches the smartest ways to improve the environment and the world, and has repeatedly been named one of Foreign Policy’s top 100 public intellectuals.

He is the author of several best-selling books, an adjunct professor at Copenhagen Business School and works regularly with many of the world’s top economists, including seven Nobel Laureates.

His think tank, the Copenhagen Consensus Center, was named Think Tank of the Year by Prospect Magazine, in US International Affairs. It has repeatedly been top-ranked by University of Pennsylvania in its global overview of think tanks.

Lomborg is a frequent commentator in print and broadcast media, for outlets including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, CNN, FOX, and the BBC. His monthly column is published in 19 languages, in 30+ newspapers with more than 30 million readers globally.
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David Lessmann
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Copenhagen Consensus Center
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