Counterterrorism, Conflict Prevention, or Hunger: Which Would You Spend Money On?

The second dispatch from the 2008 Copenhagen Consensus Conference

Copenhagen, May 26—The Copenhagen Consensus 2008 Conference, in which leading economic experts aim to prioritize the world's biggest problems, began in earnest today. The idea is that there is an "extra" $75 billion to spend over the next five years on pressing global challenges, and the Copenhagen Consensus will identify where we can get the biggest bang for our aid bucks. The public presentations took place at the Youth Forum in a Copenhagen Business School (CBS) auditorium housed in a black glass and granite building, the architectural lovechild of Bauhaus and Darth Vader. On a rainy, dreary day in Denmark who wouldn't want to stay inside for ten hours listening to lectures on how to solve terrorism, civil conflicts, and hunger?

First issue: Transnational terrorism. The world is spending way too much on counterterrorism activities, concluded University of Texas-Dallas economist Todd Sandler. He argued that there is no solution to transnational terrorism; it can be put into remission but cannot be eliminated. To fulfill his Copenhagen Consensus challenge obligations, Sandler looked at five separate possible policies including business as usual at the Department of Homeland Security. In every case, except one, the costs were far greater than the benefits. Sandler admitted that "the number of lives lost or ruined by transnational terrorism is rather minor compared with other challenges considered by the Copenhagen Consensus." On average, only 420 people are killed and 1249 injured each year in transnational terrorist attacks.

Right now we get just nine cents of value for every dollar we spend trying to stop terrorists. Sandler looked at the benefits and costs of a more proactive effort fighting terrorism and again found that we would be getting about 12 cents of protection for every dollar we spent. And what about hardening valuable targets against attacks? Such defensive measures return 28 cents on every dollar expended. Sandler suggests that prime-target nations adopt "more sensitive foreign policies" and hand out $8 billion in no-strings attached foreign aid to buy love around the world. He admits that the costs and benefits of this proposal are hard to quantify. The only proposal that Sandler thought might work is doubling the budget of Interpol to $116 million to increase its counterterrorism capabilities. He then assumed that an enhanced Interpol would prevent one spectacular incident per year. On that assumption, we might get $15 in benefits for very dollar spent.

Each initial report is challenged by two other experts offering their perspectives. In this case, UCLA political scientist Michael Intriligator pumped up the paranoia, warning that terrorists might get THE bomb. And then where would we be? In his paper, Intriligator suggested that enough fissile material is missing to cause concern. On the other hand, former U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix told the New Scientist earlier this month, "The risk of terrorists getting [nukes] is pretty small, because trafficking has not been enormous. Maybe a kilo of highly enriched uranium has gone missing from Russia, but their security has got much better."

In his perspective paper, Claremont-McKenna College economist Brock Blomberg tried a different set of calculations and basically came up with the same benefit cost ratios as Sandler, except he found that boosting Interpol's budget was a marginal benefit at most. After the session, I asked Sandler and Blomberg how we could go about dismantling the costly and largely ineffective post 9/11 counterterrorism measures in the U.S. They both looked bemused. Sandler opined that maybe one day some of the hassles at the airport will go away, but didn't foresee any lessening of border controls. Blomberg simply noted that once these things are established they never go away. So, for years to come, we're set to waste billions of dollars on security measures that we know are not cost effective. Sandler observed, "It is human nature to overspend on unlikely catastrophic events." All too true. On the other hand, it's unlikely that the Copenhagen Consensus will endorse counterterrorism spending as a high priority.

The next big issue was how to address the security challenges in conflict-prone countries. The chief presenter was Oxford University economist Paul Collier, the director of the Center for the Study of African Economics and author of The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It (2007). At the first Copenhagen Consensus conference in 2004, Collier offered a number of ambitious proposals for preventing both intranational and international conflicts but, he told me ruefully, the experts in 2004 didn't put them on the top priority list. So this time Collier decided to concentrate on a more modest set of proposals that aim to prevent violence from erupting anew in post-conflict countries.

Collier argued that his proposals address the fundamental need for security on which all of the other Copenhagen challenges are built. One cannot effectively deliver food, medicine, education, gender equality, and so forth if a country is tearing itself apart. Civil wars are economic development in reverse. Civil wars occur in the poorest least hopeful countries in the world and last on an average of seven years. Total losses range between $60 billion to $250 billion per civil war and it takes 14 years for the economies of countries to recover from the conflict. Statistics show that post-conflict countries have a 40 percent chance of falling back into violence within ten years of halting an earlier conflict. Collier also noted that coups are less damaging than civil wars to the prospects of countries, costing about $8 billion per regime change. Collier declared that "democracy is not a guarantee against coups, economic development is." He added that at low income levels democracy even makes insurrection more probable.

Collier argued for a package of proposals in which international peace keeping forces would be deployed at the conclusion of civil wars. He estimated that this would cost $850 million per year and reduce the risk of a resurgent civil war over ten years by 30 percent, yielding benefits of $75 billion. In that case, the benefits of $75 billion would clearly outweigh the costs of $8.5 billion in peace keeping expenses. Another low-cost proposal is over-the-horizon guarantees that there would be international military intervention on behalf of democratically elected governments threatened by rebellion. A relatively small number of peace keepers could operate a permanent base in a post-conflict country to which much larger forces could be dispatched quickly whenever a threat arises. Collier assumes that such arrangements could avoid three out of four new civil wars in low-income countries over a decade. He estimates that such guarantees would cost $2 billion annually. Avoiding just one civil war would result in benefits in excess of $60 billion.

In his perspective paper, Andrew Mack, director of the Human Security Report project at Simon Fraser University in Canada, noted that violent conflict around the world has been dropping rapidly since 1990. The number of conflicts is down 40 percent, coups down 40 percent, and genocides down 80 percent. What accounts for this "explosion of peace?" Mack attributes it to the fact that international peace making efforts led by the U.N. have become more effective after the end of the Cold War. Peace making via third party mediation is up 400 percent. In addition, Mack noted that coups have become less lucrative for would-be tyrants because aid donors are refusing to shovel money at countries in which coups occur. For example, the Foreign Assistance Act prohibits most forms of U.S. economic and military assistance to countries whose elected head of state is deposed by a military coup. Since 1990, this provision has been invoked against the Central African Republic, Cote d'Ivoire, Comoros, Gambia, Guinea Bissau, and Niger. Mack is skeptical of proposals for international military interventions, noting the failure to stop the Rwandan genocide in 1994 and the ongoing conflicts in Darfur.

The third session dealt with proposals on how to alleviate hunger and malnutrition. Sue Horton from Wilfred Laurier University in Canada was the main presenter. She began by pointing out that 75 percent of the world's malnourished children live in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. She estimated that about 2.8 million children die each year from malnutrition and argued that 700,000 of these deaths could be averted by low cost nutritional interventions. Between 100 and 140 million children are vitamin A deficient; 633 million people suffer from goiter due to lack of iodine; and two billion suffer from iron deficiency. In addition, new research is showing that zinc deficiency compromises children's immune responses. All of these micronutrient deficiencies reduce physical and cognitive abilities.

To highlight the importance of micronutrients, Horton cited a 2008 longitudinal study in Guatemala which followed up with men who had received supplements when they were three years old and younger between 1969 and 1977. Amazingly, the men who had received supplements below age three had wage rates which were 34 to 47 percent higher than those of controls, and annual incomes which were 14 to 28 percent higher.

Horton offered a set of proposals which would expand micronutrient supplementation for vitamin A and zinc in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa; increase micronutrient fortification of cereals and salt with iodine and iron; further research to breed new grains that deliver more micronutrients (biofortification); expand deworming programs; and offer nutrition education, especially on the benefits of breast feeding, to women in developing countries. Horton calculated that implementing these solutions would cost $1.2 billion per year and yield $15 billion in benefits. Apparently, due to some misunderstanding, she didn't realize that the Copenhagen Consensus process gives her $15 billion to allocate annually. With that amount of money, her proposals could be scaled up considerably. From the point of view of cost-effectiveness, Horton pointed out that these projects can be administered by non-governmental organizations if governments are too incompetent to do so. Her proposals may well move to the top of the Copenhagen Consensus priority list.

Commenters of both perspectives favored Horton's solutions, but wanted to expand them. One of the chief measures for child malnutrition is "stunting," that is, being significantly smaller than average for one's age cohort. Emory University nutritionist Reynaldo Martorell noted that a recent study which looked at well-nourished children in Accra, Ghana; Muscat; Oslo, Norway; New Delhi, India; and Davis, California, found no significant differences in growth rates and body length between children under age five.

Tuesday's Copenhagen Consensus sessions will consider solutions for air pollution, diseases, sanitation and water, and global warming.

Ronald Bailey is reason's science correspondent. His book Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution is now available from Prometheus Books.

Disclosure: Danish taxpayers are paying my travel expenses to attend CC08. There are no conditions placed upon my reporting.

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  • ||

    You forgot about Bears.

  • ||

    Well, gathering from the major media outlets, one would think the mayor problem facing all humans is the possible loss of the polar bears...

  • ||

    How do you do a cost-benefit analysis of terrorism? I'm not trying to be snarky, I just think you would have to make a number of assumptions that may or may not be true. Overall, though, I agree that the way we are spending that money now (Iraq, DHS, etc) is really, really awful. The one thing that I can guarantee, though, is that that money isn't going anywhere for a very long time.

  • Guy Montag||

    anti-hunger spending

    I hope that phrase actually means more than buying lunch or passing out baby formula.

  • Guy Montag||

    How do you do a cost-benefit analysis of terrorism?

    Some do it by counting the number of new union jobs created through federal programs. No, I am not being snarky either.

  • ||

    Paul Collier's proposals for aggressive intervention are almost comically in opposition to the notion of a more 'humble' foreign policy by the other speaker. Does Collier think that Sub-Saharan civil wars just magically appear out of nowhere?

    If I understand correctly, in many of those places, tribalism and warlordism are the de facto conditions, going back long before the colonial powers got involved. The "state" that we on the outside see exists only to the degree that one tribe/faction gains sufficient power to strong-arm the others and steal for the benefit of itself.

    All of the blue-helmeted peacekeepers in the world aren't going to change that reality, and will simply stoke antagonism toward the developed world.

  • ||

    ...one would think the mayor problem facing all humans is the possible loss of the polar bears...



    Polar Bears have survided global warming episodes before. Polar bears didn't evolve yesterday, they've been around through quite a few climate changes. The biggest myth the scaremongers and their media lackeys push is the inane idea that the world has been in a stable static state for five billions years. In fact, the only constant about this world is that it is in a constant state of change.

  • Guy Montag||

    Does Collier think that Sub-Saharan civil wars just magically appear out of nowhere?

    Perhaps he is one of the folks who thinks the USA started every war being fought today and in the future. Some of those believers should be showing up on this thread soon.

  • Guy Montag||

    Polar Bears have survided global warming episodes before. Polar bears didn't evolve yesterday, they've been around through quite a few climate changes.

    [Leftie voice]
    Perhaps, but after the evil corporatists took over the world the climate has changed too fast for anything in nature to keep up. Those ugly belching factories, pipelines, drilling rigs and SUVs are nothing that the polar bears have ever had to encounter in the past.

    [/Leftie voice]

  • ed||

    That's great, Brandybuck. But it's emotion not reality that drives the environmental movement.
    Just like religion and just as pernicious.

  • ||

    The biologists must be wrong about polar bears, because it would be inconvenient if they were right.

  • oleg||

    I would spend on halting biodiversity loss.

    As for helping people in Asia and Africa... I'm libertarian, so I think they should know how to care about themselves on their own - they don't need my government intervening trying to help them using my taxpayer's money.

  • LT Nixon||

    On average, only 420 people are killed and 1249 injured each year in transnational terrorist attacks.

    What are your sources on this number??!!?? Sounds a little low.

  • ed||

    Both polar bears and their prey of choice (seals) rely on ice floes. If the ice eventually disappears the seals will have to rely more and more on land to rest and give birth to their pups. Hardly an inconvenience to the bears who would rather (I assume) chase a seal down than wait for one to surface. I believe the zoologists call this behavior "adaptation." It's convenient to ignore this.

  • ||

    All of the blue-helmeted peacekeepers in the world aren't going to change that reality,

    Especially if they keep raping children.

    The biologists must be wrong about polar bears, because it would be inconvenient if they were right.

    So how did the polar bears survive before the Little Ice Age that we are just now coming out of?

    And you are aware that polar bear populations appear to be growing, not shrinking?

  • Guy Montag||

    RCD,

    See my comment May 27, 2008, 2:01pm for the official Leftie answer.

    Must be psychic day for me today :)

  • Dan||

    [i]On average, only 420 people are killed and 1249 injured each year in transnational terrorist attacks.

    What are your sources on this number??!!?? Sounds a little low.[/i]

    The key word is 'transnational'. For example, al-Qaida attacking Spain. Local terrorism numbers surely aren't including (for example, FARC terrorists killing people in their own country, or Shia death squads bombing Sunnis in Iraq).

  • Guy Montag||

    [Leftie voice]

    Don't forget, evil gun owners almost hunted polar bears to extenction, so the recovery numbers are from that. They would outnumber Canadians if it were not for the evil guns and corporations.

    [/Leftie voice]

  • ||

    Perhaps some nice, juicy sympathetic, eco-tourist would like to come up and feed me a little fishy snack. Just hold it out in the palm of your hand, so it's easy for me to take. I'll be gentle, I promise.

    ps- don't eat Italian food. I don't like garlic.

    I mean, "garlic breath." Heh. What did you think I meant?

  • Guy Montag||

    Little known Polar Bear facts:

    Polar Bears once outnumbered all of the humans in the western hemisphere.

    Later, they still outnumbered Canadians, USAians and Mexicans, combined.

    Polar Bears have a very low carbon footprint, especially in relation to their actual footprint!

  • ||

    Actually, Montag, rather than a "Leftie Voice" saying that, it was actually RC Dean's own forecaster who made the statement that the recovery of polar bears over the past couple of decades was the result of hunting restrictions.

    I guess "leftie" is a rather adaptable term.

    And yes, RC, I am aware of both the recovery in polar bear numbers over the past couple of decades, and the recent warming-produced stresses that have begun to reverse that trend, and led the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the large majority of researchers studying the issue, to conclude that they are endangered by global warming.

    So how did the polar bears survive before the Little Ice Age that we are just now coming out of? Why don't you go to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's website, and see if you can track down a good source to answer that for you?

  • ||

    Both polar bears and their prey of choice (seals) rely on ice floes. If the ice eventually disappears the seals will have to rely more and more on land to rest and give birth to their pups. Hardly an inconvenience to the bears who would rather (I assume) chase a seal down than wait for one to surface. I believe the zoologists call this behavior "adaptation." It's convenient to ignore this.

    Why aren't they running them down on ice floes now? Polar bears are not good runners, and it's not likely they'll be able to adapt in that way in the next 50 years or so if the ice melts.

  • Guy Montag||

    Amazingly, Canada does not consider Polar Bears "endangered" but the USA Lefties do.

    Appears to be more of a competition between people than between people and bears.

  • ||

    Guy,

    You don't have to be anti-gun to recognize that unchecked hunting of a species can severely decrease its numbers. Acting as a caricature of pro-gun people does nothing for our cause.

  • ||

    [Leftie voice]
    Perhaps, but after the evil corporatists took over the world the climate has changed too fast for anything in nature to keep up. Those ugly belching factories, pipelines, drilling rigs and SUVs are nothing that the polar bears have ever had to encounter in the past.



    Aside from the "evil capitalist" embellishments, that's actually correct. Adaptation via evolution, which is really the only route available to animals, takes a long time.

  • Guy Montag||

    [Leftie voice]

    Polar Bears are endangered by USAian caused AGW, mostly from GWB and his evil Cheneite handlers.

    Polar Bears are not stupid, they are fleeing the oppression of Amerikkka for the freedom of Canada.

    [/Leftie voice]

  • Guy Montag||

    {uber-Leftie voice]

    We need to donate $1.00 from every latte to a Polar Bear preservation fund.

    And the government should collect $1.00 donations from every gallon of SUV fuel.

    {/uber-Leftie voice]

  • ||

    Wow, Guy, way to get pwned.

  • Guy Montag||

    [uber-dooper Leftie voice]

    After CFCs created the ozone hole at the South Pole and killed all of the Antarctic Polar Bears, you would think these evil capitalists would have learned their lesson. They ignore science because they are fascist barbarians.

    [uber-dooper Leftie voice]

  • Guy Montag||

    Yea joe, that is the the good ol' joe funny! Telling others they were "pwned". LOL, criticism from a luddite-Left Democrat corner is funner than anything on Letterman.

  • ed||

    Adapt or die. This goes for both humans and wildlife.

  • ||

    Leftie?

    Heck, I don't even work for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and haven't even put out a statement about the recovery of polar bears as a consequence of hunting bans!

  • ||

    Yea joe, that is the the good ol' joe funny! Telling others they were "pwned".

    The funny on this thread it all yours, Guy.

    Please, keep writing. Being a Democrat in the 21st century tends to develop one's taste for schadenfreude.

  • Zeb||

    That a fact is convenient for liberal causes does not necessarily make it untrue.

  • ||

    And yes, RC, I am aware of both the recovery in polar bear numbers over the past couple of decades, and the recent warming-produced stresses that have begun to reverse that trend, and led the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the large majority of researchers studying the issue, to conclude that they are endangered by global warming.

    joe, the problem is that the reversal is largely unsuported by data, and the conclusion that they are endangered by global warming is based on speculation and modelling.

    The shrinkage in the ice pack of several years ago has been reversed in the last year or two, after all. Will we now be treated to tales of polar bears who can't make it because there is too much ice?

  • ed||

    Screw you, polar ice caps!

  • douglas gray||

    Robert Pape, in his epic study of suicide bombers, found that virtually all terrorists are home grown and home bound, very preoccupied with the local scene. Thus, trans-national terrorists are very small in number, and their clout is limited.

    Since there is far more social and political stability in Asia as opposed to Africa, it makes more sense to help people there.

    Could armed intervention from the outside have prevented the Rwandian Holocaust? Hard to say, but it does seem that U.S. troops are not being used intelligently in places like Iraq.

    Some years ago, I saw a photo of a female U.S. soldier feeding a starving baby in Haiti, and I remember thinking that it was a more constructive use of her time than being in Iraq.

  • ||

    ... and led the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the large majority of researchers studying the issue, to conclude that they are endangered by global warming.

    The "large majority of researchers studying the issue" would lose their funding if they found the bears are doing just fine - it is not like researches behave differently than the rest of us when faced with incentives.

  • Guy Montag||

    What we have learned on this thread

    Polar Bear demise is bullshit, or bearshit.

    The over hunting of polar bears was a threat to their existance that was reversed by rational humans.

    The polar bear population continues to recover from over hunting in the past.

    Wackjob feds and luddite Left H&R posters continue to glom on the "AGW" fiction, implying, without a bit of evidence beyond their own imagined mythology, that the polar bear population would be some larger imagenary number higher if it were not for evil corporations causing TEH AGW and killing off all of the nice, fluffy-white bears.

  • Guy Montag||

    Ron,

    What day does Erich von Däniken present to the group?

  • Chad||

    I read through the entire Copenhagen consensus in 2004. There is one difference between combatting global warming and essentially everything on this list - fault.

    It is sad if some kid in Africa is starving or gets malaria. But it is not my fault. It is not your fault either. While I may feel that you SHOULD help out, by no means do I think I have the right to force you to.

    Global warming, on the other hand, IS my fault and IS your fault. And yes, I (via the government) have the right to make you clean up your mess.

    The government has clear moral authority to enforce action on climate change, to whatever extent is determined by fact. It does not have moral authority to force donations to charity. Therein lies the difference.

  • ||

    joe, the problem is that the reversal is largely unsuported by data, and the conclusion that they are endangered by global warming is based on speculation and modelling.

    That is untrue. Among the data used to draw this conclusion are observations about polar bear weight.

    The shrinkage in the ice pack of several years ago has been reversed in the last year or two, after all. First, "the last year or two?" The noisiness of the trend is just as well-established as its long-term reality. Second, features like fissures and glacier movement continue to be recorded, demonstrating that the trend continues.

  • ||

    First, "the last year or two?" The noisiness of the trend is just as well-established as its long-term reality. Second, features like fissures and glacier movement continue to be recorded, demonstrating that the trend continues.

    Back to our old question about how long a period we measure trends over, I guess. Picking the start point of your trend pretty much dictates what your trend is.

    I'm not sure what glaciers have to do with the polar ice cap, which is not a glacier (at least at the North Pole). And the data indicates that nearly all the shrinkage of recent years has been recovered.

  • Chad||

    RC Dean: Do you even read what you cite? One cold winter did not even come close to replacing all the Arctic sea ice that has been lost in the last 50 years. Sure, the area is almost back to "normal", but the ice is still very thin and will melt again this summer. It might not be as bad as last year's anomoly, but there is no reason to think it is going to change the long-term trend in both the extent and thickness data.

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