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On the slopes next week 

Courchevel ski map: Try to spot me on the ski slope

I’ll be on the slopes next week, about where I’ve drawn an arrow, far away from my computer and my weblog. No posting, of course.

L2: the return of the Lomborgs 

Bjorn Lomborg, who put every environmentalist nose out of joint with his statistical sleight of hand The Skeptical Environmentalist is now taking on foreign aid.

According to the Financial Times, “He has invited a group of leading economists, including four Nobel prizewinners, to come up with a ranking of the most effective ways of spending aid in an exercise dubbed the ‘Copenhagen Consensus’. The aim of the project, which will look at subjects such as education, communicable diseases, conflicts and climate change, is to promote debate about what the main priorities should be for aid spending.”

I welcome rigour and thought in this area, although Lomborg’s past doesn’t inspire confidence for me. I also question his assertion that “statistics for the economic benefits of aid in some areas might be scarce”. It seems to me that vast amount of academic work have been done on cost-benefit analysis of aid.

The 10 challenges are listed here. Challenge papers authors are here. There are also going to be opponents, as yet unnamed.

I’d like to know, from people who know the academic scene far better than I, whether the nine experts — Jagdish Bhagwati, Robert Fogel, Bruno Frey, James Heckman, Justin Yifu Lin, Douglass North, Thomas Schelling, Vernon Smith and Nancy Stokey — are a balanced and sensible group. There certainly are some great eminences in that list, although some of their work seems very distant from the issues at hand.

Maturity and offshoring 

I wasn’t surprised to hear UK trade and industry secretary Patricia Hewitt give a speech last week warning against playing politics with offshoring. An important part of her brief is to defend free trade.

But it was a sign of the radically different political climate in Britain compared with the US that TUC general secretary Brendan Barber is quoted in today’s Financial Times saying, “I think that [decisions to outsource jobs to India] are proper commercial judgments that in some circumstances have been made.”

Barber isn’t out on a limb. In an accompanying FT article (I defy anyone to find these pieces, incidentally, from the FT’s home page without undergoing terrible search contortions), Amicus general secretary Roger Lyons is careful to distance his union from the kind of protectionist sounds that are being heard in the US.

The FT is careful to point out that the benign climate for free trade rhetoric and action is partly because of the excellent employment picture in the UK, where unemployment is decidedly lower than the US for the first time in generations. But when did economic reality ever get in the way of a good political argument?

Improves with age 

Bernard Haitink: “At 75, it’s hard to sing any more — your voice goes; or to play any more — your fingers are rheumatic. But the technique of conducting is not as subtle as that. It demands other things that apparently you can still do when you are older.”

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