Make us your home page

Here's why Tropical Storm Debby won't really provide a stimulus

Several businesses along Eighth Avenue in Pass-a-Grille, including the clothing and accessory boutique Bamboozle, were damaged by a tornado spun off from Debby on Sunday. Their repairs won’t really provide a boost to the local economy.


Several businesses along Eighth Avenue in Pass-a-Grille, including the clothing and accessory boutique Bamboozle, were damaged by a tornado spun off from Debby on Sunday. Their repairs won’t really provide a boost to the local economy.

Our latest wakeup call from Mother Nature chewed up roofs, snapped trees and turned cars into soggy husks. • The mess needs repairing and replacing. That means spending, and spending is good for our anemic economy, right? Call it a storm stimulus. • If only it were that simple.

The storm is a windfall for the roofer whose phone won't stop ringing, or the carpenter called to fix the backyard shed, or the auto repair shop open late with new business.

But what about the restaurant owner forced to close early or the theme park that saw attendance plunge?

Or the fisherman idled by high seas?

"This storm is just killing us," Chad Haggert, who operates the Double Eagle II and III party boats out of the Clearwater Marina on Clearwater Beach, said earlier this week. "There are plenty of people here who want to fish, but Debby's just out there spinning in circles, costing us money."

Economist Don Boudreaux hears it all the time: Natural disasters stimulate the economy. He thinks, at least in part, the idea stems from a fascination in finding a silver lining in a bad situation.

"It's appealing, but it's just silly to think that destruction of valuable things is better for the economy," said Boudreaux, a professor at George Mason University. "If it was good, then Beirut would be one of the wealthiest cities in the world. It's not."

Economists refer to the concept as the broken windows fallacy. It goes like this:

A boy breaks a shop window. Townspeople bemoan the act of vandalism, until one speaks up about how it might be beneficial because the shopkeeper will have to buy a new window. The windowmaker puts more money is his pocket with which he can buy new tools. The toolmaker has more money in his pocket and so on.

The fallacy part is this, with all due credit to 19th century economist Frederic Bastiat: If the shopkeeper has to buy a new window, he can't hire a new stock boy, buy a new iPod or invest in another business. Money was moved around after the window was broken, but it was not created. Furthermore, something of value was destroyed. The shopkeeper — and by extension the town and the economy as a whole — has had to pay just to get back to where he was before the vandalism.

"Society loses the value of objects unnecessarily destroyed," Bastiat wrote.

The same concept can be applied to storms. The economy would be better off, proponents argue, if all the roofs, cars and windows remained intact and everyone spent the money on something else.

Sandy Ikeda, an associate professor at Purchase College in the State University of New York, argued that the fallacy becomes clear when you take the theory to its "logical extension."

"Why wait for disasters? We should invite them!" he wrote after the Haiti earthquakes in 2010. "Why waste resources on homeland security when just one well-placed nuclear bomb could boost our own economy. … Think of the jobs! If you're not into bombs, then how about advocating a new wave of 1960s-style 'urban renewal' by unleashing an army of federal bulldozers onto our major urban areas?"

Or, as Boudreaux put it:

"If destruction worked, we could just hire people to shoot buildings down with a bazooka to get things going."

That would be good for the bazookamaker, the theory goes. But not the economy.

Times outdoors/fitness editor Terry Tomalin contributed to this report. Graham Brink can be reached at

Here's why Tropical Storm Debby won't really provide a stimulus 06/27/12 [Last modified: Thursday, June 28, 2012 11:10am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Federal agencies demand records from SeaWorld theme park


    ORLANDO — Two federal agencies are reportedly demanding financial records from SeaWorld.

    Killer whales Ikaika and Corky participate in behaviors commonly done in the wild during SeaWorld's Killer Whale educational presentation in this photo from Jan. 9. SeaWorld has been subpoenaed by two federal agencies for comments that executives and the company made in August 2014 about the impact from the "Blackfish" documentary. 
[Nelvin C. Cepeda/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS]
  2. Legalized medical marijuana signed into law by Rick Scott

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott on Friday signed into law a broader medical marijuana system for the state, following through on a promise he made earlier this month.

    Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation on Friday that legalizes medical marijuana in Florida.
  3. Line of moms welcome Once Upon A Child to Carrollwood


    CARROLLWOOD — Strollers of all shapes and sizes are lined up in front of the store, and inside, there are racks of children's clothing in every color of the rainbow.

    At Once Upon A Child, you often as many baby strollers outside as you find baby furniture and accessories. It recently opened this location in Carrollwood. Photo by Danielle Hauser
  4. Pastries N Chaat brings North India cuisine to North Tampa


    TAMPA — Pastries N Chaat, a new restaurant offering Indian street food, opened this week near the University of South Florida.

    The menu at Pastries N Chaat includes a large variety of Biriyani, an entree owners say is beloved by millions. Photo courtesy of Pastries N Chaat.
  5. 'Garbage juice' seen as threat to drinking water in Florida Panhandle county


    To Waste Management, the nation's largest handler of garbage, the liquid that winds up at the bottom of a landfill is called "leachate," and it can safely be disposed of in a well that's 4,200 feet deep.

    Three samples that were displayed by Jackson County NAACP President Ronstance Pittman at a public meeting on Waste Management's deep well injection proposal. The sample on the left is full of leachate from the Jackson County landfill, the stuff that would be injected into the well. The sample on the right shows leachate after it's been treated at a wastewater treatment plant. The one in the middle is tap water.