One of my passions in life is connections. I like to grasp how an event both occured and the consequences of that event by studying the ripples from and to other events.
For example, when Bush got elected, 9/11 happened. It probably would not have happened had Gore been confirmed as the duly elected President, because he would have continued Clinton's policies against Al Qaeda instead of taking his eye off the ball.
Bush being elected also created the biggest single national debt in human history, turning from a surplus that would pay off what was then a troubling debt (and imagine if we had those five trillion in the bank when the housing crisis hit) into a debt that not only consumed any possible budget residual but created a scenario where Bush was forced to encourage Americans to go deeply into debt, running up credit card balances and mortgages, whereby the nation is at the edge of the cliff of destruction.
Natural disaster like Katrina and the Sendai tsunami are a little harder to trace in terms of their antecedents. One can blame global climate change for Katrina, but that's not entirely true either. They are not called "acts of God" for nothing. Sometimes, shit happens.
But we can start to see the ripples of the Japanese disaster unfold, and it makes for an interesting thought experiment to expand on some of those.
Clearly, the economic impact has been so staggering that its only just now starting to come into focus. Not only is this impact being felt in Japan, but it's spreading beyond the borders quickly. China having problems with one of its main trading partners will hit us hard, as reliant as we are to the Chinese economy. Indeed, our two nations were already locked into a death spiral that threatened to send us to one war or another. Now, we're both going to swirl down and it's not an unlikely scenario that China will push down on our shoulders to keep their head above water (e.g. start calling in American debt).
The health and social concerns alone from the Japanese nuclear plant meltdowns could be another area of deep concern in Japan. If the disaster at Chernobyl is any indication, it could be twenty or thirty years before that region of Japan is habitable again. Worse, Chernobyl was home to only some 14,000 residents. By contrast, the most recent blast in Okuma immediately affects 10,000 people. Onagawa is home to 11,000 and if the Tokai plant goes, that's 35,000 more people affected. All will have to be permanently relocated and it's not like Japan is that large a nation to begin with. It's possible that 100,000 people will be refugees, and they'll have to go someplace.
Many of them will be ill with starvation and diseases like cholera and other sicknesses that crop up when disasters strike. If Haiti is any gauge, we could be looking at millions of critically sick Japanese over the longer term.
That's going to put enormous strain on the medical care system of Japan which, while very well run and very privatized, is still overseen by a government that may be forced to ration healthcare.
And that will happen after the private insurance companies have already set up their own "death panels."
More fallout (maybe that's a bad choice of word)...
Just as the world economy is starting to recover from the latest shocks to the system out of the Middle East comes word that semiconductor production will be affected due to the quake. This is no small matter as technology purchases have helped drive the world economy over the past ten years as nations try to leap from the 19th century to the 21st. Who knows what effect this will have on the world?
GM and Ford stand to benefit if the Japanese production lines are silent for too long. Even though many models of Toyota and other Japanese cars are made in America, many if not most of the components are shipped here from Japan.
We've discovered yet another role for social media like Twitter and Facebook: disaster relief, survivor searches, mass communication of immediate current status, and a group hug.
And perhaps the longest term ripple from the disaster: a renewed debate and fresh look at our own energy policies.
And none of this takes into account what's happening elsewhere in the world as our attention is focused in Japan.