Right Thinking From The Left Coast
If everything seems under control, you're not going fast enough. - Mario Andretti

Friday, March 11, 2011

All Shook Up

We’ll keep our hopes up for the victims of today’s gigantic earthquake off the coast of Japan.  My first alert was when I was told that our Hawaii ground station might go offline because of the tsunami.

McArdle makes a good point, though:

And yet, there’s another piece of good news.  This earthquake is the worst in Japan’s known history, and it will do a lot of economic damage.  And all the evidence is that it is going to take a terrible toll in human lives.  But while the economic damage might actually be the worst in Japan’s history, that will be in large part because Japan is richer than ever before. The toll in human lives is going to be much less than something like the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923, which cost over 100,000 lives.  Japan’s wealth means that it will suffer more economic damage, because it has more valuable stuff to lose.  But it also means that Japan has the resources to minimize the damage.

The 1995 earthquake, which caused hundreds of thousands of buildings to collapse, caused greater awareness in Japan about the inadequacy of their building codes--not even so much the modern codes, as the buildings left over from the 1960s and before.  So the Japanese have been making their buildings stronger.  But wealth also gives them immense resources to cope with the problems in affected areas: money to buy food and other emergency supplies, health care workers and engineers who can be sent into the area to treat the injured, and fix broken systems such as sewers and power.  The less of its time your workforce must spend just earning enough to feed itself, the more resources your society can throw into crises like this.  Meanwhile, of course, Japan has lots of infrastructure to get emergency workers and supplies where they’re needed, and to take people out--roads and airports and cars and all the money they need to run them.

It’s astonishing to see how a natural disaster that might cost 100,000 lives in a third world country will cost a few thousand in a first world one, even as the economic damage soars.  We have no idea how many people have been killed by this event.  But let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that Japan’s safety codes and better response will save 50,000 lives. So as the press goes on about the economic impact and how much money this is costing Japan and how’s it’s the worst earthquake ever and blahblahblah, ignore them.  At minimum, there are tens of thousands of Japanese who will live to see tomorrow who wouldn’t have without Japan’s great economy.  That’s the real story.  Nature has been throwing disasters at us for four billion years.  It’s only recently that we’ve been able—to a tiny degree—to mitigate their impact.

Posted by Hal_10000 on 03/11/11 at 10:18 AM in Deep Thoughts  • (0) TrackbacksPermalink
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