Hurricanes almost always leave two things in their aftermath: broken windows and articles advocating the broken window fallacy.
As economist Don Boudreaux wrote earlier today, “Americans will soon be flooded by commentary that assures us that the silver lining around the destruction caused by hurricane Sandy is a stronger economy. Such nonsense always follows natural disasters.” The only detail Boudreaux gets wrong is that such nonsense has preceded the actual disaster. The Atlantic, wanting to get a jump on being wrong, published an article today at noon arguing that Hurricane Sandy will “stimulate the economy” in two ways:
First, the threat of a dangerous event pulls economic activity forward. Families stock up on extra food and supplies to prepare for a disaster. Second, and much more significantly, the aftermath of storms requires “replacement costs” that raise economic activity by forcing business and government to rebuild after a destructive event.
Frederic Bastiat provided the ultimate rebuttal to this spurious thinking 162 years ago in his essay ‘That Which is Seen, and That Which is Not Seen.’ So why do we people make the same claim that destruction is economically beneficial? Could it be that people are simply unaware of Bastiat’s “parable of the broken window”?
Back in August economist Bryan Caplan asked why the one group that should be familiar with Bastiat’s essay—economists—don’t universally love it:
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