Despite the horrible disaster, Professor William Easterly posits a very interesting observation and asks, why has there been no looting in Japan?
I quote Prof. Bill Easterly’s entire terse post... (bold highlight mine)
Amidst the heartbreaking devastation in Japan, many have noticed (especially this blog from the Telegraph) how much social solidarity — and little stealing — there has been. The Telegraph blogger Ed West notes vending machine owners giving out free drinks, in contrast to large-scale looting after Katrina.
Economists have been saying for a while that trust is a good candidate to be a major determinant of development. Think how much contract enforcement is critical to make trade and finance possible. Think how much easier contract enforcement is when nobody tries to cheat. This is supported by empirical studies correlating per capita income with a measure of trust, like that shown below, which is computed as …oh forget that, the current example is much more compelling.
Responding to tragedy, the Japanese have resources because they are rich, and it was their social solidarity that helped get them there.
While it may be argued that Japan’s homogenous society-a strong sense of group and national identity and little or no ethnic or racial diversity-could be attributed to such social cohesion, this idea of 'homogeneity' isn’t entirely true as such differences exists in Japan, like in all societies, as Harvard University professors Theodore Bestor (anthropology) and Helen Hardacre argues.
The economic development paradigm based on “Social solidarity that helped get them there” is perhaps what Henry Hazlitt explained in his The Foundations of Morality (quoted by Bettina Bien Greaves) as, (bold emphasis mine)
For each of us social cooperation is of course not the ultimate end but a means … But it is a means so central, so universal, so indispensable to the realization of practically all our other ends, that there is little harm in regarding it as an end in itself, and even in treating it as if it were the goal of ethics. In fact, precisely because none of us knows exactly what would give most satisfaction or happiness to others, the best test of our actions or rules of action is the extent to which they promote a social cooperation that best enables each of us to pursue his own ends.
Without social cooperation modern man could not achieve the barest fraction of the ends and satisfactions that he has achieved with it. The very subsistence of the immense majority of us depends upon it.
In short, a culture of (trust) social cooperation brought about by the interdependence of people founded on the division of labor, respect for private property and voluntary exchanges is what has mostly led to Japan's civil society that has greatly reduced the incidences of violence and theft even during bleak moments.