The Flight of the Titanic

This is your captain speaking. Everything is proceeding normally, and we expect to arrive at our destination in about 30 seconds. Thank you for flying with us, and have a nice day.

The pilot of our great metaphorical economic airplane has just been on the PA system — again — to assure us that everything is going great. But it’s getting harder and harder to believe him. He says we’re making a slow and careful ascent to cruising altitude but it’s been hours since takeoff and we’re only 50 feet above ground. Is that normal? Should there be flames erupting from all the engines? With the turbulence, and the violent maneuvers to fly around tall buildings, concentrating on watching the movie and eating our peanuts is almost impossible. And we just heard the captain mutter, unaware that his mic was on, “What the hell does this button do?”

The state of the industrial economy, 2017.

It’s an engine that runs on spending by consumers, and can soar only when it figures out how to sell more crap to more people every quarter. It used to be easy. Lately — for several years, actually — the whole edifice has rested heavily on the relative well-being of two industries: the restaurant industry and the automobile industry. Now both are flashing red lights and sounding klaxon alarms in the cockpit.

A thriving restaurant industry (much of it fast-food places) is not only comforting to the Overseers (see, consumers have plenty of pocket money, they’re obviously lying about not being able to afford their medications) but the mainstay of the low, low unemployment rate we enjoy as long as we don’t count the unemployables. (You know who was right about that, over and over? Donald Trump, that’s who. During the campaign, not any more.)

But the formerly reliable bastion of prosperity is sputtering. For 11 of the last 12 months, total restaurant sales in the US have declined, even more steeply in February and March. It’s the worst tailspin for the industry since 2009-10 (when Obama was president — wouldn’t you know it.) The industry is responding to this trend by laying off people and raising prices.  The Masters of the Restaurant Universe are confident that offering slower service at higher prices will turn things around  any minute now.

Over in the automobile sector, things are similarly rosy-looking and under control. Lenders are out swarming hospices in search of people with a pulse who will accept 20-year, zero-interest, no-down-payment, cash-back car loans, which are then bundled as blue chip securities and sold to desperate pension fund managers who are weeks away from insolvency. Inexplicably, problems have arisen. Defaults are sky high, lenders have run out of subprime prospects (they’re  going for sub-sub-prime now), inventories of both new and used cars are swelling up like a Kardashian’s rear end. Nothing like this has ever happened before.

Overall, retail sales are down for the second month in a row. This is largely, but not entirely, because of the slump in auto sales; retail stores and shopping malls are closing all over the country at unprecedented rates. WalMart is laying off people, Sears and KMart do not expect to survive the year. Last month, we were told to rejoice, because February retail sales were up. This month’s report had a footnote saying that last month’s numbers have been revised, and sales were actually down. Isn’t it interesting how they do that?

Back in the cockpit, the captain is happily surveying the flashing red lights and shutting off the klaxon alarms and coming back on the intercom to tell us that actually, 50 feet is a perfect cruising altitude, and is the new normal, along with the sputtering of the flaming engines. Nothing can go wrong, he says, because he is the greatest pilot in the history of the world.  


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10 Responses to The Flight of the Titanic

  1. Every industry is the same, worse quality for higher prices. To me, that means we are really near the end economically. When nobody has the resources to woo the customer back, every sale becoming the last one per customer, how long can you last? Or, just ignore it all since we can now count on hope and change, er, I mean making America great again.

  2. Rob Rhodes says:

    Turns out all the problems in retail are because some commies want to raise the minimum wage. All the stink tank economists say so and they really know what they’re talking about, after all they are the ones that made America what it is today. Oh, wait a minute…

  3. Rob English says:

    You’ve got a way with words, there, Bro. I realize it’s all serious stuff, but your sardonic humor makes thinking about it palatable.

  4. Brian says:

    Anyone not yet aware of this ubiquitous & creeping necrosis must be functioning on pure force of brainstem alone. And yet it is so that the vast majority of the population is simply inured to reality. The success of the relentless “carpet-bombing” of the collective psyche to align with “the objective” (growth, expansion, consumption, mobility) has had its effect: a kind of impermeability to clear and widespread evidence that the jig is up within the realm of the Industrialing way of life.

  5. Tom says:

    Once the food shortages begin, people will wake up to the fact that it’s way too late to do anything about any of it. The corruption and rot throughout the many systems of government (not to mention civilization itself) guarantee that nothing will be done to change the status quo until the wheels come off, when it will just self-destruct.

    In the meantime, we can watch as “our way of life”
    becomes unrecognizable in the few years we have left, before it devolves into chaos, panic and death.

  6. JungleJim says:

    I suggest the pilot of this airliner is a female. Her name rhymes with Fellon.

  7. James Eberle says:

    Why was my comment not included?

  8. SomeoneInAsia says:

    If only during the 1970s (when change was still possible) those who could make a difference had listened to the Club of Rome and people like Jimmy Carter, and acted accordingly.

    If only…

  9. Northwest Resident says:

    “Back in the cockpit, the captain is hurriedly putting on his parachute along with the copilot and happily surveying the flashing red…”

    The happy talk will continue until just moments before impact. When you look out the window and see the pilot and copilot floating past with their parachutes unfurled, then you’ll know that life is about to change suddenly and dramatically within moments.