July 10, 2006
The Master's Program
The Point of View - A Weekly Commentary by Bob Shank

Dear Marketplace Friend,

More people read USA Today than read the Wall Street Journal. Proof? It's the pictures. Don't kid yourself: the color, the graphics, the pictures make more friends than all those words! It isn't the quantity of readers that makes a publication meaningful, however: it is found in it's ability to affect the thinking - and, ultimately, the beliefs of the content consumer.

It's likely that few of our countrymates could tell the story of Bjorn Lomborg, even though he qualified for over 40 column inches in the WSJ Weekend Edition. There, on the Review & Outlook page (among the most-visited sections of the Journal), his unique crusade was described.

He landed on the world stage just five years ago, with the publication of his book, The Skeptical Environmentalist. His past affiliations with Greenpeace had set his future on-course as a left-leaning activist who would have been first-in-line for Al Gore's new movie, and spent a night or two perched in a tree with Hollywood actors and actresses committed to saving the woods. That is, until his idealism crossed paths with his calculator. He began to mull the "conventional wisdom" of the liberal left. Recognizing that there are finite resources available to attack all of the problems confronting our world, he introduced a radical concept to the radical world: prioritization. His question: if you had an "extra" $50 billion, how would you prioritize your spending?

Seems like everyone has a favorite "cause;" some extreme cloud on history's horizon that stands ready to end life "as we know it," if we don't call off next week's barbecue and beach party to march and chant and demand solutions from the "leaders."

In 2004, he brought eight of the world's top economists to a brain summit (my description). Their task? "Evaluate the world's problems, think of the costs and efficiencies attached to solving each, and then produce a prioritized list of those most deserving money." Simple? Not child's play, but within the competence of the assembled erudite minds. The results were intriguing. Examples: $1 spent preventing HIV/AIDS would result in about $40 of social benefits, while $1 spent to abate global warming would result in about 2¢ - 25¢ worth of good. The problem? "Most people, when faced with these choices, would pick the $40-of-good project over the others - that's rational." But... "Most people are simply presented with a menu of projects, with no prices and no quantities." Give them a menu with prices, and they'll order differently when the waitress comes...

What a radical idea: choose your battles based on a cost/benefit consideration. Assess the cost with the potential return. Evaluate the risks attached to each enterprise. Make rational decisions, in the face of radical claims. If we did that with all of our discretionary spending, where would the surplus end up?

Here's a problem that didn't come up in Copenhagen, with the world-class economists: it's the very real problem of eternal judgment. What's worse than the temperature of the planet rising a degree each decade? It would be to die, leave this life... and find yourself in a Lake of Fire, for eternity. What would it cost to assure that a person not go there? What would it be worth - to him - to avoid that outcome?

Bizarre thinking? Not according to Jesus; he performed just that kind of evaluation: "What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Matthew 16:26). In his calculus, the entire net worth of earth's economies would not be too much to trade for the rescue of one life from eternal fire...

In the last few months, a few dozen evangelical leaders "came out" in support of fighting global warming. They missed the Copenhagen dialog; they didn't do the math. A $100 commitment to global warming may return $25 worth of social benefit; in the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association last year, a $100 million budget produced a million decisions to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, and to miss eternal fire.

Don't know about you, but I'm putting my money where my faith is. Evangelicals aren't defined by their answers to global problems; they're the only ones with the answers to the eternal problems...

Bob Shank

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