It didn’t take long for some ignoramus (as usual, a college professor) to explain one-half of the broken window fallacy concerning the economic impact of Hurricane Sandy: it’s going to be good! All good! Yes!
Here’s the story line from this fellow:
Disasters can give an ailing construction sector a boost, while unleashing reinvestment that actually improves stricken areas and the lives of residents. Ultimately, Americans always seem to emerge stronger and rebuild better in the wake of disaster.
Happily and predictably, my friend (I don’t know him, but I know his thinking, with which I agree) Donald Boudreaux jumped onto the article with a letter to the editor pointing out the fallacy, once again:
Predictions of economy-wide wealth springing from devastation are issued after every natural disaster. These predictions are examples of what the English jurist A.V. Dicey called “the idle contentions of paradox-mongers”* – predictions that are just clever enough to strike economically uninformed people as being profoundly insightful…
If Prof. Morici is correct, then surely he also applauds, say, the economic consequences of drunk driving. As with hurricanes and earthquakes, he can bemoan the loss of life caused by drunk driving and then get on with explaining how, paradoxically, the economy benefits from drunk driving. After all, drunk driving creates unnecessarily large numbers of destroyed automobiles to replace, damaged automobiles to repair, dead victims to bury, and injured victims to be cared for by first-responders, doctors, nurses, physical therapists, and hospital administrators and clerks.
Here is Frederic Bastiat’s original story that explains the fallacy:
Have you ever witnessed the anger of the good shopkeeper, James Goodfellow, when his careless son has happened to break a pane of glass? If you have been present at such a scene, you will most assuredly bear witness to the fact that every one of the spectators, were there even thirty of them, by common consent apparently, offered the unfortunate owner this invariable consolation—”It is an ill wind that blows nobody good. Everybody must live, and what would become of the glaziers if panes of glass were never broken?”
Suppose it cost six francs to repair the damage, and you say that the accident brings six francs to the glazier’s trade—that it encourages that trade to the amount of six francs—I grant it; I have not a word to say against it; you reason justly. The glazier comes, performs his task, receives his six francs, rubs his hands, and, in his heart, blesses the careless child. All this is that which is seen.
But if, on the other hand, you come to the conclusion, as is too often the case, that it is a good thing to break windows, that it causes money to circulate, and that the encouragement of industry in general will be the result of it, you will oblige me to call out, “Stop there! Your theory is confined to that which is seen; it takes no account of that which is not seen.”
It is not seen that as our shopkeeper has spent six francs upon one thing, he cannot spend them upon another. It is not seen that if he had not had a window to replace, he would, perhaps, have replaced his old shoes, or added another book to his library. In short, he would have employed his six francs in some way, which this accident has prevented.
I suppose I could rail about the professor’s ignorance of the fallacy he is promoting, but I have a blog to write and if everyone agreed with me, what would I write about? There’s an unintended consequence for you!