Thursday, September 1, 2011

Warnings and Precautions

Casey Mulligan gives an excellent account of the power of the market, time and human ingenuity to avert disaster:
I have no expertise in climate, weather, physics or aerodynamics, but one of the lessons of economics that environmental changes are less harmful when they can be anticipated. With only a few days of preparation, as with Hurricane Irene, people and mobile capital can be moved out of harm’s way. Protective barriers can be constructed for the immobile capital like homes.

New York was not given a definite warning of Irene a year ahead, let alone a decade ahead. But if it had been warned years ahead, the economy could have adjusted even more by making plans to locate activity in more protected places. Or perhaps even to invent goods and production processes that are more hurricane resistant.

The opportunities for preparation are one reason why economists expect the damage from global warming to be different, and perhaps less, than from natural disasters that hit by surprise.

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