Nils Petter Gleditsch
Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)
As always in the work of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, the focus is on providing cost-effective policies to promote human welfare. In this book, 25 chapters examine key issues in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the UN in 2015 for the following 15 years. Each chapter follows a fixed pattern: an analysis of the costs and benefits of the goal, be it the reduction of air pollution or the promotion of digital technology, followed by two alternative perspectives. The editor has gathered an impressive set of authors, most of them economists, to examine the various issues. Although there are 17 SDGs, the list of specific targets has ended up at 169. Morten Jerven argues in Chapter 5 that the cost of measuring the degree of success with so many targets would absorb a large share of the development aid budget and that we risk measuring compliance with deficient data unless the list is radically shortened. In a chapter of particular interest to the readers of JPR, James Fearon & Anke Hoeffler examine the costs of interpersonal violence and argue that reducing this form of violence is underfunded relative to the prevention of civil war, although the calculation of benefit-cost ratios is not feasible. A panel of three eminent economists summarize the analysis by proposing a set of particularly important targets. Health and education targets stand out as priority winners, although eliminating violence against women and girls also makes it to their shortlist of 19 'phenomenal development targets'. In his conclusion, the editor notes that zeroing in on these targets would multiply the per dollar production of social good by four.