Lomborg’s public choice problem

I am a big fan of Bjørn Lomborg but not for the reasons you think. Most Lomborg fans highlight the Skeptical Environmentalist as their preferred work. I admire How to Spend $50 Billion to Make the World a Better Place. The logic in that book is elegantly simple for an economist as it argues for dealing with the world’s problems using cost-benefit analysis. After all, you cannot deal with every problem and priorities must be set according to which priority is most likely to generate massive benefits.

Obviously, some nuances can be made. For example, I am inclined to think that a sizable share (but not the majority) of the cost of climate change can be dealt with by encouraging economic development. As Richard Tol argued in this Review of Environmental Economics and Policy article, “poverty reduction complements greenhouse gas emissions reductions”. However, this criticism is one that alters the ranking of priorities only.

There is a deeper criticism that has been lurking in my mind since 2010. I never formulated it directly in link with Lomborg’s work even though I did include elements of this criticism in this published article of mine (see here in the Review of Austrian Economics). The criticism amounts to a simple point: can governments actually achieve the proposals in the book. Do they have the ability to intelligently invest $50 billion to fight communicable diseases? Would they be able to invest $50 billion to improve educational access? The answer may very well be “yes”, but no one has considered the risk of government failure in trying to organize the ranking of priorities to deal with. Essentially, this is the “public choice” criticism of Lomborg’s work (which does not require a stand on the climate change portion which has been the object of so many debates). This is not a trivial criticism as it could be that the ranking is all wrong or that the solutions are simply not politically accessible.

Since 2010, I have not seen any “public choice” criticism of Lomborg. Today, while writing this blog post, I spent a good hour trying to find a criticism in either peer-reviewed journals such as Public Choice, Journal of Public Finance and Public Choice and Constitutional Political Economy. None had such criticisms. Similarly, I tried looking at think tanks and newspaper. Again, I came up empty-handed.

If someone knows a piece that makes this case, send it my way. If you are a graduate student looking for an article to write, this might be a good idea!

2 thoughts on “Lomborg’s public choice problem

  1. capitalistfirst September 25, 2022 / 5:45 pm

    Here is a revolutionary thought. What if the man-made climate change theory and the attack on carbon is completely and unreconcilably false? It is so why accept it?


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