As Maria noted, we at IWF are saddened by enormity of the suffering in Japan.

But we’ve got to hand it to the Japanese-horrible as it is, they have coped well with the tsunami and its aftermath. As Omri Ceren noted on my favorite blog (after Inkwell, of course), you can learn a lot about the value of civic institutions by looking at the Japanese response:   

This is how an industrialized society with a responsive government – and a decent civil society to keep that government responsive – handles disasters. As a small example: regulations can be onerous and often unnecessary, but everyone today is happy that Japan’s building codes are as stringent as they are. They’re why we’re not going to be talking about anything approaching the scale of devastation in Haiti. If nothing else, Japan will accept and distribute emergency aid on its own, and that’ll be that. Society won’t descend into anarchy.

In between, as we listen to commentary today about the fragility of humanity and the sublime power of nature, let’s keep in mind that the Japanese were very clearly not impotent in the face of today’s disaster. They were prepared, thanks to a stable government and civil institutions, and to long-term industrialization.

Whether those institutions can take hold anywhere – and what the prerequisites are for building them – is a different question. But that they can in some small way buttress humanity against nature’s pre-industrial fury seems undeniable, and the evidence for that is that the Ginza line is running right now.

This is not to say we aren’t going to see a great human toll from the tsunami.

It is to say that institutions matter.

Having noted this, I suppose there’s an elephant in the room if I don’t mention the explosion of the Japanese nuclear plant. John Podhoretz writes that this could put the kibosh on developing nuclear power in the U.S. just as Three Mile Island did in 1979. Better if we use this as a case to study instead as a cause for shutting off an important energy source, but that is not how most of the more vocal activists are going to see it.