11.24.2014  |   | Subscribe  | Contact us

All News & Blogs

E-mail Alerts

What follows natural disaster? Opportunity page 2
John Casti's op-ed column on the other, more positive, side of X-events such as Hurricane Sandy.

 This aerial photo shows damage in the wake of superstorm Sandy in the central Jersey Shore area of New Jersey.
Visit the Photo Place
Date published: 12/6/2012


This is the phase called "creative destruction" by the Austrian-American economist Joseph Schumpeter, who argued that the destruction of dysfunctional and/or outmoded social structures is a crucial component of the economic cycle of any society that wants to grow. And this notion of creative destruction is not confined to economic processes. Biologists have proposed the theory of punctuated equilibrium, arguing that occasional shocks to the evolutionary process accelerate the rate of biological evolution by disrupting the status quo and opening up new niches. Consequently, X-events are not only good for your health, they're necessary for it. There's good reason to argue that this dictum applies to the lives of individuals, as well.

The notion of creative destruction suggests that it might serve humans well to experiment with deliberately creating controlled X-events so as to precipitate manageable destruction that opens up new social niches without destroying the experimenter. We already do this on a small scale with controlled burns in forests and culling herds of animals so as to generate space that buffers against a full-fledged forest fire or an animal pandemic. Of course, such actions at the level of human systems would be political suicide. Instead, politicians wait for (human) nature to do the destruction for them, stepping in afterward to take credit for the cleanup and garner votes from the victims. Witness efforts in this regard by both parties in the recent presidential election.

Returning to the Lisbon quake, in less than a year the city was cleared of debris. Eager to have a new and easier-to-navigate city, the king commissioned the construction of big squares, large avenues laid out in a rectangular grid, and wide streets--the very streets I was walking on as I pondered Hurricane Sandy. What benefits of this kind might we expect to see from Sandy?


Previous Page  1  2  3  Next Page