Natural Disasters, Death and GDP and how it relates to climate adaptation

In the wake of the earthquake in Haiti and the expected death of tens of thousands economists around the world are examining it from a economic point of view and coming to some amazing conclusions. In the case of catastrophic global warming; it is important to remember these conclusions.

Economic growth with strong institutions are the solution to catastrophic natural disasters.

Matthew E. Khan, a professor at UCLA, writes on his blog the damage in Haiti is connected to unenforced building codes and low quality cement and suggests his paper on this subject. In it, I found this gem of a graph. As seen below in the graph, the richer a country (right on the X axis) the lower the death raters per disaster (on the Y axis). This is incredible and it comes down to the money, building regulations, and equipment etc to manage it.

Another economist, Don Boudreax writing on Cafehayek writes this,

Re “Tens of thousands feared dead” (Jan. 14): The ultimate tragedy in Haiti isn’t the earthquake; it’s that country’s lack of economic freedom. The earthquake simply but catastrophically revealed the inhuman consequences of this fact.

Registering 7.0 on the Richter scale, the Haitian earthquake killed tens of thousands of people. But the quake that hit California’s Bay Area in 1989 was also of magnitude 7.0. It killed only 63 people.

This difference is due chiefly to Americans’ greater wealth. With one of the freest economies in the world, Americans build stronger homes and buildings, and have better health-care and better search and rescue equipment. In contrast, burdened by one of the world’s least-free economies, Haitians cannot afford to build sturdy structures. Nor can they afford the health-care and emergency equipment that we take for granted here in the U.S.

These stark facts should be a lesson for those who insist that human habitats are made more dangerous, and human lives put in greater peril, by freedom of commerce and industry.


Donald J. Boudreaux


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