White Windsor collars on crisp colored shirts, banded by Hermes cravats and striped suspenders, offered the mousse-laden coif of Gordon Gekko an air of elite credibility as he unabashedly granted greed the seal of morality twenty years ago, “Greed is good!” Today, while the sequel to Wall Street is in production, our sense of what is good is changing, at least on Main Street. The rest of the world is learning—slowly and painfully—that crisis is good too, even as the mantra of greed continues its reign of primacy in the shadow of Trinity Church in downtown New York. As Goldman Sachs conjures a new bubble-market to inflate and exploit, crisis brings hope in the most unlikely places.
In the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans, which was demolished and left as rubble by the many government agencies who swore to rebuild it, crisis offers a vacuum of opportunity. Wayne Curtis reports (The Atlantic, November 2009) “New Orleans is seeing an unexpected boom in architectural experimentation.” In the Lower Ninth the new dream homes are also green. Simple, yet high design is combined with solar power to make the electric meter “run backwards” and building materials are reclaimed from the destruction of Hurricane Katrina. If the Corp of Engineers does their job re-building the levy (for real this time), what had become a cesspool in the Lower Ninth Ward will be one of the most advanced new neighborhoods in America.
Then there’s the case of ‘biochar.’ While Al Gore promotes environmental apocalypse (justified by his own Hobbesian view of brutish man) and is challenged by less vocal but brilliant scientists like Princeton’s Dr. Freeman Dyson, the nearly unknown Danny Day is busy solving the problem beyond the hue and cry of politicized climate change. Mr. Day is founder and president of Eprida (www.eprida.com). Eprida applies old technologies first used by indigenous tribes in the Amazon Basin to convert biomass to build “sustainable food and energy production.” Biological charcoal (‘biochar’) is made from organic waste that keeps harmful carbons ‘locked-in’ providing a new form of highly effective organic fertilizer and storage of harmful carbon for many millennia. Clean up the air while increasing crop yields—a two-for-one piece of creative elegance.
Finally, while our elected leaders wrestle with their temperamental paramours in the health insurance and pharmaceutical industry, Dr. Jay Parkinson is executing his own healthcare reform by renegotiating the relationship between patient and healthcare provider. At hellohealth.com, the patient manages his or her healthcare where they can find a physician, schedule an appointment, handle simple visits online, and manage their prescriptions and medical records. HelloHealth utilizes a combination of health savings accounts and catastrophic insurance to provide coverage, while reducing the enormous waste of time and paper associated with most patient/physician interactions. Many of the appointments are completed online using instant messaging with the patient’s records in front of the physician as digital files. The only thing missing are all the tattered back-issues of People magazine in the waiting room full of wheezing patients.
If these three cases suggest anything it is that crisis may indeed be as good, or better, than Gekko’s greed. Americans have an uncanny capacity to experiment, innovate, and prevail. Maybe, just maybe, this crisis will prove really, really good.