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.
“[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.