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The Disaster Profiteers

How Natural Disasters Make the Rich Richer and the Poor Even Poorer

John C. Mutter

St. Martin's Press

The Disaster Profiteers Download image

ISBN10: 1137278986
ISBN13: 9781137278982


288 Pages



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Natural disasters don't matter for the reasons we think they do. They generally don't kill a huge number of people. Most years more people kill themselves than are killed by Nature's tantrums. And using standard measures like Gross Domestic Product (GDP) it is difficult to show that disasters significantly interrupt the economy.

It's what happens after the disasters that really matters—when the media has lost interest and the last volunteer has handed out a final blanket, and people are left to repair their lives. What happens is a stark expression of how unjustly unequal our world has become. The elite make out well—whether they belong to an open market capitalist democracy or a closed authoritarian socialist state. In Myanmar—a country ruled by a xenophobic military junta—the generals and their cronies declared areas where rice farms were destroyed by Cyclone Nargis as blighted and simply took the land. In New Orleans the city was re-shaped and gentrified post Katrina, making it almost impossible for many of its poorest, mostly black citizens to return.

In The Disaster Profiteers, John Mutter argues that when no one is looking, disasters become a means by which the elite prosper at the expense of the poor. As the specter of increasingly frequent and destructive natural disasters looms in our future, this book will ignite an essential conversation about what we can do now to create a safer, more just world for us all.


Praise for The Disaster Profiteers

"Natural disasters, Mutter shows, often make inequality worse, but that process is no accident of nature....Mutter’s [book] is focused, zeroing in on natural disasters and the patterns their effects follow."New Republic

“Blending insights from the natural and social sciences, Disaster Profiteers makes a major contribution to knowledge about how catastrophes deepen inequality. With gripping accounts from disasters around the world, Mutter shows why the aftermath of crises often matters more than the initial shock. This is an illuminating, unsettling book.”—Eric Klinenberg, author of Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago

“Forget your assumptions about the true impact of natural disasters. John Mutter has written a riveting account of how natural disasters disproportionately affect poor and disenfranchised communities before, during and after the disaster hits. These are the communities where response is often more about control and containment, rather than humane assistance - and where recovery is rarely effective in rebuilding resilient communities for the pre-storm residents and more about building communities designed to gentrify and attract more affluent populations. This is a must read for anyone interested in the true story of disaster response.”—Irwin Redlener MD, Director, National Center for Disaster Preparedness, Earth Institute at Columbia University

“Professor Mutter provides a highly engaging overview of the physical forces that initiate natural disasters and the social dynamics that define their consequences. By dissecting the features of—and responses to—recent high-profile earthquakes, typhoons, floods, and tsunamis, he pushes hard to separate fact from perception, with special emphasis on the biases and inequalities that too often hit marginalized groups the hardest.”—John W. McArthur, Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution

“John Mutter has written an insightful book that stresses that disasters are social phenomena more than they are natural events. He highlights how disasters have been manipulated for political and financial gain via case studies ranging from Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy in the United States to Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar and earthquakes in Haiti and Japan.”—Howard Kunreuther, James G. Dinan Professor of Decision Science and Public Policy, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

Reviews from Goodreads

About the author

John C. Mutter

JOHN C. MUTTER is a professor at Columbia University with appointments in the department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and in International and Public Affairs. He was previously deputy director of the Earth Institute. Mutter was a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2007. A contributor to the blog site OECD and to EARTH Magazine, Mutter has appeared on broadcast media including CNN and CBS. He lives in New York City.

David Dini

John C. Mutter

Official Links

John C. Mutter's faculty page