A lot of people like to write off the Austrian school of economics as lunacy. Those same people usually cite mainstream economics as the right and true school of thought. However, I have a difficult time taking their opinions seriously when they believe shit like this:
Devastating Hurricane Harvey, unprecedented in its rainfall, could be a slight negative for U.S. growth in the third quarter, but economists say it may ultimately provide a tiny boost to the national economy because of the rebuilding in the Houston area.
Goldman Sachs economists estimate a very preliminary impact of the storm to be $30 billion in property damages, making it the ninth largest since World War II in terms of domestic property damage. Goldman economists say, in a note, the storm could take 0.2 points off of growth in third quarter because of the impact to the energy sector.
The problem with mainstream economics is its reliance on activity. So long as money is changing hands mainstream economists see a strong economy. If $30 billion of property is destroyed, they see $30 billion of activity and therefore a stronger activity. What totally flies over their head is the fact that that $30 billion isn’t producing new wealth, it’s merely replacing lost wealth. The Austrian school of economics is at least intelligent enough to address this fact.
What’s especially bad about the viewpoint that destruction is good for the economy is that it was refuted by Frédéric Bastiat way back in 1850:
Have you ever witnessed the anger of the good shopkeeper, James Goodfellow, when his careless son has happened to break a pane of glass? If you have been present at such a scene, you will most assuredly bear witness to the fact that every one of the spectators, were there even thirty of them, by common consent apparently, offered the unfortunate owner this invariable consolation – “It is an ill wind that blows nobody good. Everybody must live, and what would become of the glaziers if panes of glass were never broken?”
Now, this form of condolence contains an entire theory, which it will be well to show up in this simple case, seeing that it is precisely the same as that which, unhappily, regulates the greater part of our economical institutions.
Suppose it cost six francs to repair the damage, and you say that the accident brings six francs to the glazier’s trade – that it encourages that trade to the amount of six francs – I grant it; I have not a word to say against it; you reason justly. The glazier comes, performs his task, receives his six francs, rubs his hands, and, in his heart, blesses the careless child. All this is that which is seen.
But if, on the other hand, you come to the conclusion, as is too often the case, that it is a good thing to break windows, that it causes money to circulate, and that the encouragement of industry in general will be the result of it, you will oblige me to call out, “Stop there! Your theory is confined to that which is seen; it takes no account of that which is not seen.”
It is not seen that as our shopkeeper has spent six francs upon one thing, he cannot spend them upon another. It is not seen that if he had not had a window to replace, he would, perhaps, have replaced his old shoes, or added another book to his library. In short, he would have employed his six francs in some way, which this accident has prevented.
Resources spent on rebuilding lost wealth cannot be used on creating new wealth. The rate of creation of new wealth is a far better indicator of the strength of an economy that simple economic activity.