The Global Priorities of the Copenhagen Consensus

The Copen­hagen Con­sen­sus is one of the few or­ga­ni­za­tions out­side the EA com­mu­nity which con­ducts cause pri­ori­ti­za­tion re­search on a global scale.

Nearly ev­ery­thing on their “Post-2015 Con­sen­sus” list, which cov­ers ev­ery cause they’ve looked at, fits into “global de­vel­op­ment”; they don’t ex­am­ine an­i­mal causes or global catas­trophic risks aside from cli­mate change (though they do dis­cuss pop­u­la­tion ethics in the case of de­mo­graphic in­ter­ven­tions).

Still, given the depth of the re­search, and the sheer num­ber of ex­perts who worked on this pro­ject, it seems like their list ought to be worth read­ing. On the page I linked, you can find links to all of the differ­ent cause ar­eas they ex­am­ined; here’s a PDF with just cost-effec­tive­ness es­ti­mates for ev­ery goal across all of their causes.

I didn’t have the time to ex­am­ine a full re­port for any of the cause ar­eas, but I wanted to open a thread by not­ing num­bers and pri­ori­ties which I found in­ter­est­ing or sur­pris­ing:

  • The most valuable types of in­ter­ven­tion, ac­cord­ing to CC:

    • Re­duce re­stric­tions on trade (10-20 times as valuable per-dol­lar as any­thing else on the list)

    • In­crease ac­cess to con­tra­cep­tion (CC says “uni­ver­sal” ac­cess, but I don’t see why we wouldn’t get roughly the same value-per-dol­lar, if not more, by get­ting half the dis­tance from where we are to the goal of uni­ver­sal ac­cess)

    • Aspirin ther­apy for peo­ple at the on­set of a heart attack

    • In­crease im­mu­niza­tion rates (their es­ti­mates on the value of this don’t seem too far off from GiveWell’s if I com­pare to their num­bers on malaria)

    • “Make benefi­cial own­er­ship info pub­lic” (mak­ing it clear who ac­tu­ally owns com­pa­nies, trusts, and foun­da­tions, mak­ing it harder to trans­fer money ille­gally be­tween ju­ris­dic­tions). Notably, CC ar­gues jus­tifi­ably for re­duc­ing hid­den in­for­ma­tion to zero, since “a par­tial solu­tion to the trans­parency is­sue would sim­ply al­low al­ter­na­tive ju­ris­dic­tions to con­tinue to be used”.

    • Allow more migration

    • Two in­ter­ven­tions within food se­cu­rity: Work­ing to re­duce child malnu­tri­tion (a com­mon EA cause) and re­search into in­creas­ing crop yields (some­thing EA has barely touched on, though The Life You Can Save does recom­mend One Acre Fund)

  • Areas that CC found sur­pris­ingly weak, com­pared to what I’d ex­pected:

    • Cut out­door air pol­lu­tion (about 3% as valuable as cut­ting in­door air pol­lu­tion)

    • Data col­lec­tion on how well UN Millen­nium Devel­op­ment Goals are be­ing met (mea­sure­ment is very ex­pen­sive, and could cost more than ac­tual de­vel­op­ment as­sis­tance)

    • So­cial pro­tec­tion sys­tem cov­er­age (helping more peo­ple ac­cess gov­ern­ment benefits); CC es­ti­mates that this is less than one-fifth as valuable as cash transfers

Read­ing the full po­si­tion pa­pers for some in­ter­ven­tions could be a re­ally valuable ex­er­cise for any­one who cares a lot about global de­vel­op­ment (par­tic­u­larly if you think EA may be ne­glect­ing cer­tain op­por­tu­ni­ties in that space). If you spot any­thing in­ter­est­ing (and/​or any­thing that seems wrong), leave a com­ment!