Putting aside all the anxiety and serious harm to life and limb for a moment, let’s just consider the cold bean counting economics involved with a disruptive storm of this magnitude.
A quick list of economic negatives: 16,000 flights cancelled; Amtrak service disrupted; stock markets closed; retailers shut down; days of missed work and paycheck losses; physical damage to homes, businesses, cars, and even a few shut downs of NJ gas refineries that could show up as higher gas prices if the supply can’t be quickly replaced.
However, a few things to consider that push the other way. I’ve seen rough loss estimates of around $20 billion, of which some (half?) will be replaced by insurance payouts. Though retail, as noted, will take a hit, demand for storm-preparedness goods spiked big time before Sandy hit. And many–not all–trips and activities that were cancelled before the storm will now take place afterwards.
And then there’s the difference between gross domestic product and net domestic product. When stuff gets destroyed in a storm, that subtracts from the economy’s net product, but if it’s replaced, it actually adds to gross product. One economist, Diane Swonk, estimates that Sandy will actually “add from two-tenths to half a percentage point to economic growth this quarter.”
I know–if you’re sitting there without power (as I am) with the stir-crazy kids driving you nuts, this is cold, wet comfort. But there it is.