In the NewsThe Economist September 8, 2014

Counting catastrophe’s costs

This month marks the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season. It also marks the sixth anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Both types of disaster can wreak havoc on an economy. But which is worse, a cyclone or a banking crisis? Recent research suggests that it is pretty much a tie: both a banking meltdown or a hefty (90th-percentile) cyclone reduces income per person by about 7.5%. The figures come from a paper, co-authored by Lab's Solomon Hsiang and Amir Jina, that assesses the impact of violent storms on economic activity—and compares them against other calamities. The researchers list Armaggedonish events—civil wars, global warming, currency crises and so on—and rank them in terms of ensuing economic mayhem.