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What really struck me about the readings for today is the deep economic implications that disasters and potential disasters have. I really liked Betsy’s analysis of Steinberg’s claim that the business elites of San Francisco cried “fire” and not “earthquake” to ensure that capital continued to flow into the city. The assertion that this was a freak accident was not just lying to ensure the flow of capital, but Californians really did refuse to accept the dangerous environment that they were living in. Since so much has been written about Steinberg, and because I find that Davis provides some unique and compelling economic arguments, I am choosing to focus on Los Angeles and its disaster culture.
I first found it really interesting that disasters in Los Angeles can essentially be used to prove Keynesian economics correct. Davis quotes a veteran reporter who claimed, “For the Clinton Administration, the Los Angeles earthquake has provided a politically salable reason for doing what it has sought to do for most of its first year in power: pump billions of dollars into Southern California’s ailing economy.” (Davis 48) After relief was provided, especially to economically important sectors, (transportation, technology and the wealthy) the economy of SoCal began to heat up again and return to its status as the most economically productive region of the country. For me this both strongly affirmed the legitimacy of Keynesian economics and highlighted the usefulness of disasters in testing economic theory because essentially post-disaster the entire economy needs to be rebuilt.
I also think it is worth noting that in terms of disaster relief, not much has changed since the Gilded Age, the policy is help the wealthy first, and maybe help the poor if there is still enough time and money left. The image of the houses of the rich in Malibu being rebuilt very quickly and with federal money, while poor elderly minorities were homeless really stuck out to me. This image also reminded me of what we learned about the San Francisco earthquake where the wealthy whites used the earthquake as an excuse to shoot the poor chinese and even had government permission. This government sanctioned inequality provides for an complex ethical debate. Who should we help first? While the poor need it most, the wealthy are most important to getting the economy back on track. It is a complicated issue with no clear answer.