March 13th, 2011
06:53 PM ET

Fareed's Take: What the devastation in Japan teaches us

If you take the earthquake that hit New Zealand a few weeks ago and multiplied it by 1,000, you would get the one that hit Japan last week. Or if you remember the one that devastated Haiti last year, this one is several hundred times more powerful.

That’s why, despite all the precautions and preparedness, the devastation has been so great.

Most experts agree that in terms of safety plans and procedures, Japan has done almost everything right.

It is too soon to do anything but mourn, but this tragedy does remind us that no matter how much advanced work a country does, no matter how well the buildings are built, nothing can prepare you for this.

Nevertheless, the work has helped. The death toll in Japan would be much, much worse if not for all the safety codes and drills that they had adopted.

Even in their nuclear power plants, things could have gotten much, more worse.

The one area where Japan did not adequately prepare itself was economics.

Japan has not managed its economy with the awareness that it might suffer from earthquakes and thus need room to be able to take on the large-scale debt that rebuilding its economy would require.

Quite to the contrary, Japan has a debt load almost twice the size of its total GDP. This is the worst of all rich countries. The International Monetary Fund says that in four years, Japan’s debt will equal 250% of GDP. That’s before this earthquake, which will add tens of billions of dollars to the debt.

Although no one can ever prepare for a tsunami like this, we all need to keep our eyes on worst-case scenarios: financial meltdowns, wars and natural disasters.

All of these things can happen, and we should keep them in mind in managing our lives, companies and countries. We need to give ourselves enough flexibility and resilience to be able to handle such crises.

Japan did not do that in the economic case. Isn’t it time for us to start worrying about whether we in the United States have done that? Or will we wait until the next crisis hits – until the next earthquake?

soundoff (172 Responses)
  1. george in texas

    listening to cnn cover the huge tragedy in japan, it feels like we are living in a colonized usa. why are all the anchors and and the reporters speaking in funny english accents? is that a new fashion now?

    btw, japan obviously believes in reaganomics: deficits don't matter (dick chenny cited reagan's wisdom while rebutting paul oneil, the secretary of treasury, who objected to big spending when bush was about to invade iraq). zakaria dosn't know it?

    March 14, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Reply
  2. Keith W

    Reality has a way of clearing away the smoke and mirrors of spun-up delusional realities to create a realm of what’s really possible. In God may We Trust – but Verify.

    March 14, 2011 at 3:40 pm | Reply
  3. don bronkema

    Al Gore koodent possibly have linked tectonism to climate

    March 14, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Reply
  4. Hector Batista

    So sad how nature drives our lives. Its like the God finger pointing to destruction. Defenetly with a purpose.
    Mercy lord to us poor worms humans

    March 14, 2011 at 5:26 pm | Reply
  5. Emilio

    This devestation is a simple reminder that man must respect naturethe good,and, the bad, learning to live with this dynamic planet we live on. As a nation we need to have major disaster preparedness at the local comminuity leve(city, county, state, interstate level)l not relying on the United States Government to provide rapid short tern and long term assistence.

    March 14, 2011 at 9:52 pm | Reply
  6. MikeBell

    Will Obama and fiscally liberal Democrats please take Fareed's advice?
    "Although no one can ever prepare for a tsunami like this, we all need to keep our eyes on worst-case scenarios: financial meltdowns, wars and natural disasters.
    All of these things can happen, and we should keep them in mind in managing our lives, companies and countries. We need to give ourselves enough flexibility and resilience to be able to handle such crises."

    March 14, 2011 at 11:18 pm | Reply
  7. Molly Phelps

    I read this article because I think this tragedy can teach us a great deal while our attention is focused on it. I have a deep love of Japan and her people and lived there teaching English for a couple years from '85-'87. Some things may not have changed a lot. The people and government are very different...almost our polar opposite in little everyday things they do. e.g. they read up and down and we read left to right, they float their letters in an imaginary box, we write on an imaginary line, they open a book from the back, we do from the front. When I look at this horrible tragedy, I see their strength and resilience and know that as prepared as they are....we probably are not. We have few drills and preparations of everyday citizens even though good systems are available. They had great infrastructure and building preparation while some of our government leaders would have us cut NOOA (?) (the advance weather alert system in the Pacific). There is an excellent system put out by the state of Washington and adopted by a number of other states called Map Your Neighborhood. Please look into this and let people know about it. My own city has adopted it and yet most people don't know about it. Every single citizen needs to have some true disaster awareness and a sense of what to do. I hope we can gain inspiration from the Japanese and then eventually translate that into better infrastructure, alerting system and home and neighborhood preparedness. I urge people to contribute as you are able to any help efforts in Japan, just as we would want our international neighbors to help us.

    March 14, 2011 at 11:21 pm | Reply
  8. PortlandMan

    Its snowing – MMGW
    Its not snowing – MMGW
    Its raining to much – MMGW
    Its not raining enough – MMGW
    My dog bit the mailman – MMGW
    Mt wife is in a bad mood – MMGW

    March 15, 2011 at 6:32 am | Reply
  9. PortlandMan

    There are more hurricans -MMGW
    There are fewer hurricans – MMGW
    There are more earthquakes – MMGW
    The sky is falling – MMGW
    Al Gore is a self serving idiot- this one is true

    March 15, 2011 at 6:36 am | Reply
  10. PortlandMan

    I have a riddle for all the leftist nuts on line...
    What's the difference between George W Bush and Barak Hussien OaBama?

    March 15, 2011 at 6:40 am | Reply
  11. JonathanL

    So why sould only the Untied States be prepared. Is this a very patronizing suggestion that the USA should prepare for God's wrath or something. Why not shouldn't Iran prepare for it instead? Let me pose this question: If GOd did exist and is as horrible as the Bible and Qura'n make him out to be, then he could get all pissy again and start a hailing storm of giant asteroids, another Biblical flood that submerges the entire planet and kills everyone (God doesn't care). The question becomes, should we dig giant holes and climb into them and bring 10 boxes of ritz crackers and a roll of tiolet paper, or should we all buy rafts and a case of beer, a bag or pretzels, some water bottles, and a tube of sunscreen? Or should we all just stand there and let GOd kill us? What if the Universe explodes? How would we prepare for that?

    March 15, 2011 at 9:12 am | Reply
  12. David

    I think the US already has an excellent disaster policy, hasn't it? Look at Hurricane Katrina – the government put in place a very fiscally responsible plan there: let the poor die and their homes get destroyed. In the language of fiscal conservatives: if you can't afford to survive, that's just evolution in practice. Not that they believe in evolution...

    March 15, 2011 at 12:58 pm | Reply
  13. Alex

    1. Watch "Magnetic Storm" movie on youtube and see Gary Glatzmaier's publications:
    2. Earth's magnetic field becomes unstable (why? Sun activity?);
    3. If current model ("dynamo theory": is correct then due to electromagnetic induction Earth's magnetic field changes lead to internal Earth molded core electrical currents changes (and vice versa).
    4. Due to friction between molded core and Earth's mantle => crust ( we have got current seismic activity.
    It will be great to check the correlation between Earth magnetic field behavior and Earth seismic activity.

    March 15, 2011 at 1:34 pm | Reply
  14. FalconsHerald


    you are definitively not a metereologist, or any sort of physician. you don't even have the language of someone with that formation. tectonics and climate are connected in two obvious ways.

    any volcanic or seismic activity imply a heat exchange with the atmosphere (which can warm things up). any volcanic eruption can unleash a clood of ashes that will cool down the temperature.

    Now lets look at the other direction. How climate change can influence tectonics.

    We are all familiar that asphalt get dammaged by the seasonal temperature changes, as the material contract and expand, cracks appear.

    Climate change cause the temperature to fluctuate more rapidly and in a more extreme fashion, thus having a deep impact on the earth crust, causing it litteraly to crack. yes, even a few degree is a big change.

    Now an hidden factor is water. you all know this strange substance behave in a funny way, and how ice actually float on water. Those particularities of water cause even more stress in some areas.

    So could volcanic activity increase as a result of climate change ? yes.

    Lol ! I forgot to tell my credentials ! Maybe I should have claimed to be Stephen Hawkings incognito or something. Instead I'll let everyone double check my facts by checking books at their library on heat exchange, tectonics, weather patterns and so on. you can also visit serious sites or read serious magazines. Personaly I like the NASA websites a lot, but that's because I like astronomy as a hobby.

    March 15, 2011 at 4:28 pm | Reply
  15. gandoman

    What have we learned from the earthquake?????
    The PLANET HAS A SOUL & Japan is being punished for slaughtering WHALES & DOLPHINS.
    It s a fact, not a coincidence.
    The Japanese deserve the same treatment they accord other intelligent species.
    That's what the Japanese do to WHALES & DOLPHINS & now they are reaping the rewards.
    What goes around eventually comes around & it could not have happened at a better time!

    March 19, 2011 at 1:44 pm | Reply
  16. Levas

    Have you seen the advertisements on CNN's home page this morning. Get rid of this stuff. I'm shifting to another .com for news until unprecedented and offensive use of advertising stops.

    April 18, 2011 at 9:30 am | Reply
  17. don't clik here

    Hello, Neat post. There is a problem together with your web site in web explorer, could test this? IE still is the market chief and a big element of folks will miss your excellent writing because of this problem.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Reply
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