The Political Economy of Earthquakes

, by Foreign Policy in Focus

The survivors of the devastating earthquakes in Haiti and Chile are still scrambling to deal with the damage. Here, however, pundits are still scrambling to explain the dramatic difference in impact. Haiti’s quake on January 12 came in at 7.0 on the Richter scale, leveled the capital city, and left more than 200,000 dead. Chile’s earthquake on February 27 registered a magnitude of 8.8, which means it was 500 times more powerful than the Haiti shock. But fewer than 1,000 Chileans died, and the damage to buildings was considerably less.

What’s the answer? Look at mundane indicators, such as national income equality, marginal tax rates, and number of government building inspectors. In other words, neither politics nor economics alone determined outcomes but, rather, political economy: the way political structures and actors interact with economic forces. In turnn, both Chile and Haiti face important post-earthquake choices in this realm of political economy.

John Feffer introduces a range of FPIF articles on Chile and Haiti.