Friday, 15 January 2010

Wealth and earthquakes

Donald J. Boudreaux makes a good point about the recent tragedy in Haiti,
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.
The benefits of economic freedom and the wealth that it helps generate are sometimes not seen until tragedy befalls us.

You may argue that stricter building codes are a major reason why the 1989 Bay Area quake killed far fewer people than did this week’s Haiti quake. But stricter building codes increase the cost of building and if you are poor and cannot afford expensive buildings you build cheap, less safe, ones. So you can have all the building codes you like, but people have to be wealthy enough to be able to afford to obey them, for them to work. Also buildings will get safer, even without building codes, as people get wealthier. The more wealth you have the more you have to protect and thus the more you are willing and able to spend on protecting it.

1 comment:

MacDoctor said...

Wasn't the one that hit Southland six or seven years ago about 7.6? Admittedly the epicentre was deep and somewhat out to sea, but there was nothing more than a lot of broken glass.

Regardless of whether they are really comparable, there is no doubt that loss of life in an earthquake is inversely related to the wealth of a country or a region.