Villagers, displaced by a tidal wave, wait for food in the Sundarbans delta, Bangladesh, June 2009.
Parth Sanyal / REUTERS

These days, people for the most part believe that governments should try to promote the general welfare of the populations they serve. The disagreements come over how to do that—what goals to focus on, what policies to adopt, and so on. These questions are usually approached through broad intellectual frameworks, such as political ideology or religion, and much time is spent debating the finer points of various doctrines. Often overlooked, however, is a simple and easy way to make lives better: use routine cost-benefit analysis to compare the expected returns from alternative policies and then choose the more effective ones.

Effectiveness sounds dull. But what if an extra dollar or rupee in a budget could feed ten people instead of one? Or if $100,000 of international aid spending could be tweaked so it would save ten times as many lives? When the stakes are this high, efficiency in spending becomes

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  • BJORN LOMBORG is President of the Copenhagen Consensus Center and Visiting Professor at the Copenhagen Business School.
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