Tuesday, March 2, 2010

comparing earthquakes: Chile vs. Haiti

In an ideal world, we would be able to compare earthquakes that are similar except for a change in one variable. Then, we would be able to determine cause-and-effect. Of course, there are many variables in play here. So, we're left trying to figure out the extent to which these variables contributed to the death and destruction in Haiti vs. Chile.

Here's a helpful article from the AP's Frank Bajak (hat tip:

Most notably, about 220,000 people died in Haiti, while Chile's death toll is about 800.

-Chile's earthquake was 500 times stronger.
-Chile's earthquake was close to Concepcion (a city of 900K people) vs. Haiti's Port-au-Prince (about 700K people before the earthquake).
-Haiti's earthquake was only 8 miles underground (compared to 21 for Chile).
-Chile is far more used to earthquakes than Haiti.
-And Chile was "infinitely better prepared, with stronger buildings, strict building codes, and a robust emergency response".

Where does this last point come from? A wealthier, developed country. And there is no reason why Haiti could not be as prosperous as Chile. Why isn't this so? The relative size and corruption of the Haitian government.

As such, the Haitian leaders over the years bear tremendous responsibility for the damage and death from the earthquake. As a Christian, it's comforting to believe that there are degrees of punishment in Hell-- or "a special place in Hell" as the colloquialism puts it-- for those who do such things and fail to repent and trust in Christ's atoning sacrifice. (We can also blame U.S. economic policy which protects some of our domestic producers from Haitian competition-- harming their people to protect some of our wealthy.)

The WSJ editorialists speak to this here:

Yet for a quake that was the fifth biggest ever measured, and several hundred times larger than the one that killed more than 220,000 in Haiti, the destruction could have been much worse. It's worth asking why it wasn't....

But such preparation is also the luxury of a prosperous country, in contrast to destitute and ill-governed Haiti. Chile has benefited enormously in recent decades from the free-market reforms it passed in the 1970s under dictator Augusto Pinochet. While Chileans still disagree about Pinochet's political actions, they have not repealed most of that era's economic opening to the world. In the 2010 Index of Economic Freedom, compiled by the Heritage Foundation and this newspaper, Chile is the world's 10th freest economy. Haiti ranks 141st....

Along those lines, Bret Stephens of the WSJ gives credit to Milton Friedman-- in his contribution to the relatively free-market, wealth-enhancing policies in Chile.

Milton Friedman has been dead for more than three years. But his spirit was surely hovering protectively over Chile in the early morning hours of Saturday. Thanks largely to him, the country has endured a tragedy that elsewhere would have been an apocalypse....

Earthquake magnitudes are measured on a logarithmic scale....Saturday's earthquake in Chile measured 8.8. That's nearly 500 times more powerful than Haiti's, or about one million Hiroshimas....

It's not by chance that Chileans were living in houses of brick—and Haitians in houses of straw—when the wolf arrived to try to blow them down. In 1973, the year the proto-Chavista government of Salvador Allende was overthrown by Gen. Augusto Pinochet, Chile was an economic shambles. Inflation topped out at an annual rate of 1000%, foreign-currency reserves were totally depleted, and per capita GDP was roughly that of Peru and well below Argentina's.

What Chile did have was intellectual capital, thanks to an exchange program between its Catholic University and the economics department of the University of Chicago, then Friedman's academic home. Even before the 1973 coup, several of Chile's "Chicago Boys" had drafted a set of policy proposals which amounted to an off-the-shelf recipe for economic liberalization: sharp reductions to government spending and the money supply; privatization of state-owned companies; the elimination of obstacles to free enterprise and foreign investment, and so on....

For his trouble, Friedman would spend the rest of his life being defamed as an accomplice to evil: at his Nobel Prize ceremony the following year, he was met by protests and hecklers. Friedman himself couldn't decide whether to be amused or annoyed by the obloquies; he later wryly noted that he had given communist dictatorships the same advice he gave Pinochet, without raising leftist hackles....

Result: Chileans have become South America's richest people. They have the continent's lowest level of corruption, the lowest infant-mortality rate, and the lowest number of people living below the poverty line.

Chile also has some of the world's strictest building codes. That makes sense for a country that straddles two massive tectonic plates. But having codes is one thing, enforcing them is another. The quality and consistency of enforcement is typically correlated to the wealth of nations....


At March 4, 2010 at 6:44 AM , Blogger Darrell said...

It is politically incorrect to say this, but Chilean prosperity, and liberty, is largely attributable to the often demonized Augusto Pinochet.

At June 3, 2010 at 1:40 PM , Blogger Stacy said...

In my opinion both earthquakes were devastating and left a lot of sadness in the world with the difference that happened in Haiti the poorest country in the world and in chile the people can't buy viagra ..


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