The Right Priorities for the G8

In the run-up to the G8 meeting in Scotland on July 6-8, British Prime Minister Tony Blair has called on the international community to set the right global priorities, which he has unequivocally stated should be Africa and global warming. Blair is right in challenging us to set priorities. But his choice is probably wrong. While we should accept his challenge, we should also get our priorities right.

Political leaders rarely espouse clear priorities, preferring to seem capable of giving everything to everybody. They must work with bureaucracies, which are naturally disinclined to have their efforts prioritized, lest they end up as anything less than number one. Whenever we prioritize, we not only say where we should do more (which is good) but also where we should not increase our efforts (which is regarded as cynical).

But not talking about priorities does not make the need to prioritize go away. Instead, the choices only become less clear, less democratic, and less efficient. Refusing to prioritize, dealing mainly with the most publicized problems, is wrong. Imagine doctors at a perpetually overrun hospital refusing to perform triage on casualties, merely attending patients as they arrived and fast-tracking those whose families made the most fuss. Refusing to prioritize is unjust, wastes resources, and costs lives.

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