2011/03/17

Distant disasters

Here in southern Spain, we're going on about our lives as though everything were normal. Japan is far away, and we haven't yet felt the effects of radiation, of a health disaster for millions, of the crash one of the world's most potent economies and a significant importer of our local products. We will feel all these things, though.

The convulsions in northern Africa and the Arabian Peninsula are much closer, but not our problem, say the European leaders. Except for Italy, faced with the floods of refugees from Tunisia, the humanitarian consequences so far have not registered in Europe. The main concern (as Gadaffi well understands) is the price of oil, and for the leaders in the European Union a few hundred or a few thousand deaths, while lamentable, are an acceptable cost for market stability.

But the political earthquake in North Africa and the geological one in East Asia have changed the world, even if we don't know how. Gadaffi may survive, and his clients will still be eager to buy his oil, but his power must surely be weakened by this civil war. If Tunisia and Egypt can continue deepening their democratic unions, their weight will continue to push other Arab states to go beyond their timid reforms. What will happen in Japan and its neighbors and competitors in Asia we can hardly guess — but my bet is that Japan will come roaring back, because its people are so determined and so educated. But at least for a time, Chinese and South Korean manufacturers will have a competitive advantage.

And the future of nuclear energy? Up for debate.

2 comments:

Dirk van Nouhuys said...

Things are not so simple for Korean or Chinese or Taiwanese competitors because of the complexity of supply sources. An iPhone, say, has something like 400 parts. If one of those parts comes from a factory closed in Japan the flow will be affected even though they are made in China.

gef said...

Right. It's too complex to predict, especially since we don't know how long and how deep this disaster will be. This is not good news for anybody, except maybe Gadaffi, in that it takes attention away from his country.