Friday, March 16, 2012

What I Said About Japan

Last year at this time, everyone was concerned about the aftermath of the tsunami in Japan.

In particular, the damage to a nuclear reactor was a big deal.

I was exceptionally harsh on this view:

Unlike most other colleges, business schools actually make a point of talking about ethics and morals, rather than just baldly assuming that students understand them.

It isn’t often that I get to talk about them in macroeconomics, but here is a golden opportunity.

The distinction between ethics and morals is often lost on students (and it isn’t like philosophers make a tight distinction anyway). Some argue that morals are what individuals believe, and ethics is the study of that set of beliefs. Some argue that morals are personal, and ethics are cultural or societal. Let’s make it simple: morals are micro, and ethics are macro.

Which leads me to legacy media coverage of the ongoing nuclear crisis in Japan. I assert that it may be moral to be concerned about this, but it is unethical for the legacy media to make it even a secondary focus of their concern. This suggests that it may be immoral to be personally swayed by their coverage.

The issue here is that the legacy media coverage is tantamount to equating a potential disaster with an actual one.

A real disaster had happened. Excessive focus on a potential disaster at that time is ethically wrong.

Obviously, I was really “sticking my head through the noose” on this one.

A year later, here’s what we know.

One government survey of 10,468 people from three towns at high risk—Namie, Iitate and Kawamata—was released in late February. Among them, 58% are estimated to have received less than one millisievert of exposure, and 95% less than five millisieverts. Just 23 people, including 13 nuclear workers, were assumed to have been subjected to more than 15 millisieverts.

By comparison, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that Americans are exposed, on average, to three millisieverts of radiation per year from natural and man-made sources. Japanese safety rules allow a nuclear worker up to 100 millisieverts a year …

Last time I checked, the 20K people who died in the tsunami are still dead.

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