1. Is it just me or doesn’t it seem like a miracle that the number of casualties (10,000 – 15,000) are as low as they are (so far) from an earthquake, a tsunami and potential nuclear fall-out? I am of course referring to deaths at the time of the catastrophe and not deaths due to terminal diseases occurring years after. By way of reference: the 2010 Haiti 7.0-quake killed 316,000; the 2008 Sichuan 8.0-quake killed 68,000; the 2005 Kashmir 7.6-quake killed 76,400; the 2004 Indian Ocean 9.1-quake killed 230,000 and the 1999 Izmit, Turkey 7.6 earthquake killed 45,000.
2. I found the Economist Free Exchange blog’s article “How will Japan’s economy fare after the disaster?” interesting and troubling. The essence of the article is that this earthquake will go down as one of the costliest. Based on my wanderings along all four corners of the internet, the cost of bringing the infrastructure back up and repairing the damage is going to be roughly around $200 billion (I decided not to link anywhere; the estimates keep changing with every breath). I’m assuming this figure doesn’t count the wealth destroyed of private individuals, companies, insurance, travel industry, etc. For an aging society, one in which the long-term demographic trends spelled less domestic investment, the earthquake is going to provide impetus for a lot of domestic spending that otherwise would not have been.
The troubling and interesting part of #2 is when you compare it to #1. The earthquakes I previously cited were in poor, third world countries (Haiti and the smaller countries touched by the Indian Ocean earthquake) to up-coming, emerging markets (China, India and Turkey). Although I just want to leave you to ponder the death tolls vs. economic costs in those disasters vs. the Japanese disaster, I can’t help but point out two possible intuitions. (i) Lives still seem to be more valuable in the rich world, and (ii) on a related note, rich, industrial economies that are inter-linked in business, financial and manufacturing terms on a global scale are still the key cogs of pure economic output in this world, i.e. the manufacturing of real goods and services that comprise global GDP. When an economy of this type is hit hard by calamity, the rest of the world will catch some adverse externalities in the form of business contagion. Its based on point (ii) that the Economist can claim the Japanese disaster is going to go down as the costliest.
UPDATED: Here’s a good chart from the economist: Counting the Cost. Natural disasters are more costly to rich countries, even if less rich-country citizens died in a disaster vs. poor-country citizens who die. Is this a fair statement? I think so. Does it depend on absolute numbers or relative proportions? I can’t tell.
3. I don’t understand the world wide blowback against nuclear power plants. Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant was built in the 1970s, largely based on now-obsolete design specs. Hasn’t it managed to withstand a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and a 10-meter tsunami rather well? Read Colby Cosh’s excellent Maclean’s piece on the subject. Hasn’t it managed tail risk pretty well? Isn’t this a point in favour of adopting nuclear energy?
UPDATED: I like Zolltan’s comment below and the following graph.
4. The Great Salt-Buying Panic in China is one of my favourite light-hearted stories in the wake of this disaster. The iodine in salt is viewed as providing protection from the on-coming Japanese radiation. Never mind the fact that to provide the level of protection needed to actually neutralize radiation, a human would have to ingest enough salt to kill himself. Perhaps, aluminum foil will be the next item on the list everyone will covet. Buy aluminum people.