After the farce comes the tragedy.
The disruption caused by an Icelandic volcano last year reminded us that, for all its complexity – indeed, in many respects because of its complexity – our high-tech globalised economy remains at the mercy of forces far beyond our control.
The same lesson was rammed home again last month but in a far more horrific form by the triple disaster that hit Japan.
The destruction has been a major blow to the world’s third largest national economy which has been reflected in all the global markets.
It has also delivered a stark warning to all who imagined that the future is a comfortable, albeit uneven, growth in human prosperity. If something like this can happen to one of the most technologically advanced and integrated economies in the world, it can happen to anyone.
Japan was not badly prepared. The Japanese lead the world in “earthquake proof” building. Nothing, however, is proof against an 8.9 earthquake directly off the coast, followed by a 30 foot tsunami, followed in turn by a possible nuclear meltdown.
Public reassurances are a necessary fiction. Make no mistake: architects of skyscrapers in Dubai and Shanghai, engineers of nuclear power stations around the world, and actuaries throughout the global insurance sector have been working late into the night, redoing their sums on the basis that that their first assumptions are flawed.
Perhaps we should all be doing the same. Shortly before the Japanese tragedy, this contributor was tempted to mock a fellow entrepreneur who was still paying for extra anti-terrorism insurance he took out on a small shop in a peaceful part of the UK in 2001. However, as the shop-owner pointed out, “The chances of an actual terrorist attack on my shop are miniscule, but the chances of disruption due to a terrorist attack, or even a bomb scare or a false alarm, are fairly high.”
It was at that point that your contributor realised he ought to check the small print of his own insurance cover.