Now that the 2021 hurricane season is well underway, expect a very dumb idea to make multiple reappearances.
Whenever Mother Nature produces awesome devastation, not only via storms but in earthquakes and other disasters, too, this idea pops up from every corner. Amid skyscrapers reduced to piles of rubble, freeways heaved and twisted, homes wiped out by floods or fire, dozens or hundreds of dead and injured, adults who should know better declare, “The economy will now get a boost as we get busy replacing what was lost.”
Destruction, the argument goes, requires repair and reconstruction. That means the creation of new jobs. Catastrophes stimulate economic activity, turning at least some of the pain of the devastation into a national blessing. Or so we’re told.
In 1993, then-U.S. Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen openly declared that the nation’s economy would receive a healthy stimulus because of terrible floods in the Midwest.
Former economist and now full-time socialist propaganda spokesman Paul Krugman espoused the same nonsense in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks 20 years ago. “It seems almost in bad taste to talk about dollars and cents after an act of mass murder,’’ he wrote, but the attacks could “do some economic good.’’ Manhattan would “need some new office buildings’’ and “rebuilding will generate at least some increase in business spending,’’ this charlatan advised us.
Can you imagine survivors of these awful events being consoled by such assurances? To my knowledge, no one — repeat, no one — has ever said, “I’m so glad my home was flattened, because now I have the chance to rebuild it and stimulate the economy!”
So if nobody whose lives or valuables are ruined in disaster proclaims the event to be a blessing, then how is it that someone can add up all their misery and proclaim the result to be a good thing? Answer: They can’t, because it’s not, period.
Some people are simply not using their heads to think this through. They are looking at a tree or two and ignoring the forest.
Consider a thief who goes house to house grabbing all the loot he can get his hands on, then spends it at the local shopping mall. The shop owners might appreciate his business. But that’s not the same as saying he helped the economy as a whole. Every dollar the thief spends at the mall is a dollar that cannot be spent by the people to whom the money really belongs.
If it costs the victims of catastrophe a billion dollars to rebuild, that’s a billion they won’t have for other things. Much was lost forever because it was simply irreplaceable at any price. Anyone who simply observes the increased construction activity as people spend to rebuild, and concludes that a disaster is some sort of economic blessing, is blind to the big picture.
The fact that some people who should know better see blessings in destruction is an indication that we have a lot of economics educating to do!
Lawrence W. Reed, a resident of Newnan, is president emeritus of the Foundation for Economic Education. His most recent book is “Was Jesus a Socialist?” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.