Disillusioned commentary on Australian financial sector, politics, business, media... with attention occasionally distracted to the world outside... and intermittent reminder that rage is a more life-conserving irrationality than despair.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Guns or butter?

A classic question in Economics 101, first posed by Paul Samuelson, revolved around the trade-off between money spent on defence (or, as non-Americans call it, aggression) and the money alternatively spent on goods and services for consumption.

So what might be the actual trade-off today?

Chris Langley reports in New Scientist this week ("The best defence", p19) that the world's military spending is expected to have passed one trillion dollars for the first time in 2004. Over 40% of this is spent by the United States ("and to what end?" peace activists in Iraq might ask).

Deplorable as it might be, the flow of money into the war industry is not a tap that can be turned off overnight, anymore than animal activists can stop the flow of dead chickens to the world's dinner tables overnight.

But what else might personkind (we write "mankind" as we don't want to go the way of Larry Summers, after all) do with just five percent of that money?

The Economist set out last year to find out.

In the Copenhagen Consensus project it assembled a panel of distinguished economists and asked them, "if you had $50 billion to spend to improve the lot of mankind, what would be the priorities?"

The top four, for those who can't be bothered checking the link, are control of HIV/AIDS, provision of micronutrients to combat malnutition, global trade liberalisation and control of malaria.

Feasible? Yes.

Likely? Less likely than continued production of anti-personnel land mines.

What other species creates tools to specifically gnaw off each others' feet?


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