Ask a bunch of the world's best economists — including four Nobel laureates — how to make the world a better place, and they don't just blurt out an answer. They take their time, weigh up impact-per-dollar and make careful decisions. And this is what they came up with.
The best part? We can totally do it.
While many, less penny-pinching policymakers might argue that preserving green space, instigating massive geoengineering projects or mining asteroids might be our saviour, a panel of economists and environment experts, along with the think tank Copenhagen Consensus Center, have focused on initiatives with more bang-per-buck.
The results, then, aren't the sexy, exotic kinds of science and technology we're used to thinking about. They don't care about cutting emissions or alternative energy, either. They're instead the exact kind of humble, obvious ideas that are easy to forget about — but could change the quality of life for billions of people. You can read the findings in full, but here are the big three take-home messages.
Sounds as impossible to remedy as it is obvious, but top of they every-dollar-counts list of priorities is malnutrition. And it's actually an entirely obtainable goal. The team suggests that "each dollar spent reducing chronic under-nutrition has more than a $US30-pay-off" to the global economy. In providing food for those without it, then, it's possible to save lives and improve the world's financial situation.
Eradicate infectious disease
The economists also suggest that solving basic — and preventable — problems like diarrhoea, worms and malaria would do far more good than other grandiose interventions. While it's hardly new advice, cash spent on such initiatives would have a far bigger payback to the global economy than more exotic healthcare research.
Prevent chronic disease
Finally, the report suggests that cost-efficient methods of preventing chronic diseases would transform our future. Effective hepatitis B immunisation and affordable drugs for heart conditions, for instance, could transform lives and slash healthcare costs. Likewise, effective educational campaigns to reduce salt and fat consumption could have very similar, long-lasting effects.
In fact, if all of this sounds like common sense, that because... well, it is. What's interesting about the report, though, is how it gets us thinking about the simple, cheap ways in which we can change the world in which we live. Flash science and expensive engineering are all and well good — but there are broader, cheaper problems to solve, which we ignore at our cost. [Copenhagen Consensus Center via PhysOrg]