Grumpy Old Man: A much better place

There’s nothing wrong with capitalism that a little humanity – and humility – can’t fix.

Better place 311 (photo credit: Better place)
Better place 311
(photo credit: Better place)
I recently traded my hip for a new one, in the process spending time in the orthopedic ward at Hadassah University Medical Center’s facility on Jerusalem’s Mount Scopus.
My stay there (or more correctly, my stays there, thanks to a small complication) came at a time of major breaking news concerning big business and a big businessman. And, hospital stays being what they are, I had a lot of time to watch the news and think between clicks on my terrific patient-controlled analgesia machine.
The news concerned the unrelated travails of Better Place and Nochi Dankner.
The former is a start-up aimed at promoting the use of fully electric automobiles.
It now was filing for bankruptcy after several years in the spotlight as one of the country’s great green hopes. The latter is one of the tycoons we often talk about when discussing the way so much of our economy has fallen into the hands of a few wealthy individuals and families. He had run afoul of lenders and investors by making what appear to have been some very poor business decisions.
I STARTED LIFE in Israel on a kibbutz where, at least at the time, socialism worked because everyone there wanted to play the game (well, most everyone) and no one thought he or she was more equal (well, almost no one). Having inherited a strong set of social values from my parents (and having had my meals cooked and laundry done for me most of my life), I found it to be a good fit.
More than three decades after leaving, I still have a socialist soul. Yet I have adjusted to the point where I admire people who have an entrepreneurial spark or simply work harder or longer or both in order to better themselves economically. If they are also out to improve the world, even more wonderful.
Shai Agassi seemed to fit this profile.
He was for a time the start-up darling in a nation of start-up darlings, his visage everywhere at once, from high-profile talk shows to the world’s leading financial publications. Barely 40, he was reaching for the gold ring by founding and leading Better Place, a company that was going to help clear the air with silent electric cars and clean, white battery- switching stations. Who cared if he got rich doing it? Agassi’s only mistake – which eventually cost him his job several months before the firm went under – seems to have been his unbridled conviction that he could change our buying and driving habits pretty much overnight.
Of course, everyone else in this country knows the rule: Don’t mess with my car.
Dankner is another thing entirely.
Like Nik Wallenda, he of the circus highwire dynasty who several weeks ago traversed the void of the Grand Canyon without a safety net or harness, Dankner, a trained lawyer born into a family of high finance, seems to do what he does merely to be able to say he did it.
He appears to be little more than a collector. Aside from his tax bill – and even that might be negligible, for all I know – he contributes nothing to society.
He can’t even say he creates jobs. He just leverages the assets of his holding company – assets that for the most part are owned by others – to collect additional businesses that already exist, be they Internet service providers, cellular companies, insurance conglomerates or supermarket chains.
He’s no Better Place. He’s not even a Yitzhak Tshuva, the self-made tycoon who, notwithstanding the current debate over export versus domestic consumption, is now helping the rest of us realize a measure of national wealth by developing the country’s off-shore natural gas deposits. Dankner merely aggregates entities under the wide roof of his holding company. The only things he creates are a wider roof and an ever-more-humongous reservoir of personal wealth.
Compare him, then, to the hard-working, caring professionals of the Mount Scopus orthopedic ward (and hospital wards everywhere else), from the surgeons, residents and nursing staff to the people who perform the more menial tasks involved in keeping a place of healing clean, sterile and functioning smoothly.
While Dankner regularly shows up on TV and in the papers hobnobbing with members of the power elite (and most notably, perhaps, with their political sluts), we never really see the dedicated people like those who attended to me following my surgery. They’re invisible until we need them – and then they are there, stand-up women and men who ask for nothing more than respect and a reasonable paycheck, people who don’t go sucking up everyone else’s pension fund and then run to the banks to plead for mercy when things go wrong.
This is my chance to thank Alex (chief resident), Alona (nurse), Anat (nurse’s aide), Billal (second-year resident), Bracha (nurse’s aide), Bracha (secretary), Chaim (dietary aide), Clarissa (nurse), Dima (nurse), Gurion (surgeon), Hazem (nurse’s aide), Hila (nurse), Leah (head nurse), Luba (nurse), Maria (nurse), Marina (nurse), Michael (nurse), Ninette (nurse) Omran (nurse’s aide), Paul (physiotherapist), Rabia (student nurse), Saaid (nurse), Samia (nurse’s aide), Sara (student nurse), Tzvi (nurse), Yula (nurse), Yulia (nurse), Yusuf (housekeeping), and anyone else whose name was inadvertently left out. These are truly wonderful people, and the dedication and caring they show in their work should be an inspiration to us all.
NOCHI DANKNER, you are probably no less decent a human being. You can redeem yourself. Sell some of your companies.
Give up-and-coming capitalists a chance. You can even keep your most profitable assets. Just make sure you treat with respect and fairness what employees you have left. Remember, happy workers are productive and loyal employees and are the real secret behind a company’s success. (While you’re at it, tell this to your tycoon friends. Many of them seem to be somewhat unaware.) Or, you can get rid of your businesses altogether. Keep your mint and go back to practicing law. Volunteer your time as a public defender. You can focus on bankruptcy proceedings for the newly poor. (You might even run into people you once knew. Have coffee with them. Commiserate with them.) Alternatively, why not go back to school and become a doctor, a nurse, a medical technician? Do good by day and go home to roll in your gazillions by night. No one will begrudge you this.
Certainly not the wonderful staff of the Mount Scopus orthopedic ward or of any other hospital ward in the country.
And certainly not me. The world would be a much, much better place.