Saturday, January 17, 2009

Destruction in Gaza

An AP article on the "damage" to infrastructure in Gaza by IDF's operation. Quote: "Israel's fierce assault on Gaza's Hamas rulers has destroyed at least $1.4 billion worth of buildings, roads, pipes, power lines and other infrastructure in already impoverished territory, Palestinian surveyors estimate."

At least $1.4 billion worth to whom? Would any informed and willing buyer pay that much for infrastructure that is used as a launching pad for missile and mortar fire against the most formidable military in the Middle East (except Turkey's, if one wants to consider it part of the region)? One has to assume they mean "It will cost $1.4 billion to rebuild it for Arab and European governments, who are the only economic agents dumb enough to pony up for such an exercise in futility." You could build a road or a pipeline on a military test site, and it will cost you $X, but it is absurd to claim that it is worth $X - after the next test it is likely to be worth close to nothing. Simply put, the $1.4 billion number does not include a significant Hamas risk discount, and that discount should (but will not) be included in the decisions whether to (re)build.

Two counter-intuitive, but plausible corollaries:

1) If (unlikely) Israel's operation were to eliminate Hamas from Gaza, or even credibly render it impotent for a prolonged period of time, the increase in value from the reduced Hamas risk discount on remaining Gazan infrastructure would more than offset the loss of some of it - i.e. the bombing would have made Palestinians as a whole better off.
2) The fair market value of a good is what a willing and informed buyer would pay for it. I would surmise that the average Gazan resident would pay to get out of Gaza, even if in the process he or she were to relinquish any claims to property left behind. Thus, if you ignore loonies who would rather die than abandon Palestine and the fight (for both nationalist and religious reasons), and thus assign infinite value to staying, the fair market value of Gaza plus Hamas is negative.

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