Hammertime: Japanese silver lining? Not hardly

In the wake of the destruction in Japan, some economists and pundits have been keen to point out the alleged economic benefits of the tragedy. It’s a “silver lining” offers one writer at Huffington Post, that Japan’s mature economy will get taken “down a notch.”

Larry Summers, former head of Obama’s National Economic Council, suggested something similar on CNBC:

“It may lead to some temporary increments ironically to GDP as a process of rebuilding takes place. In the wake of the earlier Kobe earthquake Japan actually gained some economic strength,” he said.

While a recovery from disaster might employ people and even allow for revamped and more efficient buildings and infrastructure, this “silver lining” searching quite unceremoniously disregards the millions now homeless, the hundreds of billions of dollars in damage, and the thousands of creative, hard-working people lost in an instant to an earthquake and tsunami. Those incredible costs have to be accounted for in any calculation of economic benefit or it’s as if those homes, bridges, cars, planes, and people had no worth at all.

Ryan Young of the Competitive Enterprise Institute explained last week in The Daily Caller:

“[I]f the tsunami had never happened, people would still have all the buildings and cars that they had in the first place. They would be able to spend their money on other, additional goods that they want.

And those new construction jobs the tsunami will create? Every last one of those workers could be making something else instead. They could be producing computers, televisions, almost anything.”

Destruction took away from Japan, and though people will indeed go to work rebuilding it, we should not dismiss their incalculable loss in our rush to find an economic upside. The people of Japan will be suffering from this “economic opportunity” for years to come.

Here are some ways to help them now.

Global Giving: Text JAPAN to 50555 to give $10
Samaritan’s Purse: Text SP to 85944 to give $10
Red Cross: Text REDCROSS to 90999 to give $10

  • Anonymous

    Liberals point of view? as long as its them and not us .

  • johnmurdoch

    I’ve worked in Japan, and maintained an apartment in suburban Tokyo for almost three years. I would make a very sharp distinction between this earthquake (and tsunami) in Japan, and the devastation in Haiti.

    Simply put, Haiti has been a desperately poor nation, utterly dependent upon foreign aid, since the day they won their “independence” from France in the early 1800s. Their culture reflects that–there is no shame in the president of Haiti putting out his hand, asking other nations for cash.

    Nothing–nothing–could be more disgraceful to the Japanese than to ask for money. Perhaps the only thing more horrifying than asking for money, would be to ask for money from “gaijin”–foreigners.

    I have walked through many of the coastal fishing towns of Japan, including several just south of the area flattened by the tsunami. These are towns that have long since been “hollowed out”–the young people have gone to university and moved to Tokyo (the Tokyo metropolitan area has a larger population than New York and New England combined), and for the most part it is only the elderly who were left behind.

    For those elderly who survived, it would be unimaginable to contemplate accepting charity. For the children and grandchildren of those elderly, it would be the epitome of disgrace to so neglect their elders as to leave them dependent upon faceless, nameless, godless gaijin (that would be us). This is the sort of monumental you-can-never-live-down-the-shame that causes Japanese to routinely jump in front of oncoming trains on the Yamanote Line.

    In a perverse way, this only makes it worse. There were lots of proud people on the Gulf Coast who may have balked at accepting charity–but recognized it as help from a neighbor, to be repaid when the next hurricane hit somewhere else. In Japan, the overwhelming sense of personal and family honor, and the overwhelming power of disgrace, will make any foreign attempts to help seem very futile.

    (I read an excellent article online–alas, I forget where–reporting that American navy helicopter pilots were very carefully ensuring that food and water they provided was being distributed by Japanese SDF (military) personnel–not by big, blond, blue-eyed gringos. Very, very smart.)

  • jjsmithers

    Well, I guess we are getting abetter understanding of how our country go into its current financial mess:

    A Huffpo clown suggests it is good that Japan’s economy gets taken down a notch, while Summers trots out the “broken window” theory, which never made any sense…that a broken window is beneficial to the economy…a new window gets sold, someone gets work installing it, etc.

    In either case, just hike the theory up a notch or two and see if that benefits anyone…will the US benefit from not having a robust trading partner ? How does tourism fare ? In a world economy, with so many intertwined business relationships, the damage gets spread across many countries, and businesses outside of Japan also take some hard hits. (Will GE or other nuclear power businesses benefit from no new nuke plants ?)

    As for Summers and the “broken window” theory, why not just level some major cities in the US and then rebuild them ? If destuction is good for GDP, let’s go nuts and send GDP to the moon.

    The next time you see a financial headline “How Did We Get Here ?”… we got here through insane financial theories (Everybody should own a home, whether they can afford it or not).

  • lukuj

    Where are all the Hollywood types that quickly emerged after Katrina and Haiti with telethons, concerts, etc. to raise money? With the exception of Sandra Bullock, who donated a large sum, I have heard very little. Could it be that the victims this time are not African-American and thus not worthy of help?

  • Jess81

    Applause. There’s something quite evil about calculating political gain from that much pain.

  • shepmoors

    Don’t forget about the Salvation Army