AuthorTopic: Flight of the Titanic Ends with a Bang & Whimper  (Read 453 times)


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Flight of the Titanic Ends with a Bang & Whimper
« on: May 29, 2017, 06:50:34 AM »

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Published on The Daily Impact  April 18 & 24, 2017

Discuss these articles at the Kitchen Sink inside the Diner


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.


Not with a Bang, or a Whimper. A Tink.




The bridges of Coral Gables, Florida, have become harbingers of the havoc to be wrought by climate change.




The mayor of Coral Gables, Florida believes the world will end not with a bang, but a tink — the sound of an aluminum mast striking a steel girder. That sound, he explained to Bloomberg News the other day, will be the manifestation of climate change that crashes the Florida real estate market and brings on the Apocalypse. Okay, he didn’t say anything about Apocalypse. But his explanation, and the fact that Bloomberg gave it a lot of attention, is striking evidence of the growing awareness of the inevitability and imminence of the ultimate disaster that is climate change.

Coral Gables is a suburb of Miami, a planned community built in the original boom of the 1920s on the coast just south of the larger city. It is home to the University of Miami and the Miami Biltmore Hotel. The essential word in Florida real estate is “waterfront,” and Coral Gables has nearly 50 miles of coastline. (Technically, it’s bayfront, but here the chain of barrier islands, known here as keys, are so far out to sea — Key Biscayne is the nearest — that for all intents and purposes the Coral Gables waterfront is seacoast.)

The original designers of Coral Gables styled it as the Venice of Florida, and graced it with miles and miles of canals. Whether or not it was really their purpose at the time, the canals created thousand and thousands of waterfront lots, now highly valued by skippers who love the idea of parking their yachts in the back yard — properties on the canals comprise about one quarter of the entire value of real estate in Coral Gables. But because we were and remain a car-loving nation, Coral Gables also has, of necessity, your normal network of roads. Which cross, and recross, the canals on bridges. 302 bridges.

Aye, there’s the rub, as Hamlet said.

The sea level at Coral Gables has risen four inches since 1992, and is rising now at a rate of an inch a year. The world’s glaciers are melting, and the oceans are expanding, as the average temperature inches ever higher. In South Florida, seawater is lapping up onto inland streets and properties, in the absence of any storm, with increasing frequency. Salt water is intruding into the aquifers that provide the area’s drinking water. Sea level is expected to rise three more feet by 2060. (South Florida is also in Hurricane Alley, at risk from stronger and more frequent hurricanes, also because of climate change, but that is another story.)

Pretty soon now, Mayor Jim Cason reckons, we will hear the tink. The first mast will strike the first bridge, announcing that there is no more access to the open sea for sailing boats from Coral Gables’s canals. Property values inland from the bridges will tank. The willingness of buyers to buy, lenders to lend, and insurers to insure will all be severely constrained. Loss of revenue will cripple the city, making it ever less desirable as a place to live or even visit.

But here’s what’s so important about this, and what Mayor Cason understands about it; what the mast hitting the bridge will do is pop the bubble of denial that allows people to function as if the climate isn’t changing, the sea isn’t rising, the storm isn’t coming, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Business as usual persists. The band on the deck of the Titanic keeps playing. We appreciate the people who keep telling us that everything is alright, we resent those who see doom coming, as if they were bringing on the doom, not warning us to get out of the way.  

In six years, the median price of homes in the Miami area has risen 120%, much faster than the sea level and twice as fast as values in the rest of the state. And yet mayors, and the mainstream business press, are now talking openly about the end of the road. Already, people in South Florida are selling out and moving away to avoid the rush. They are outliers, and few in number, but Bloomberg found them, and interviewed them. The lemmings have started to move. The mayors are not sleeping well.

hey hear things in the night, going “tink.” And “pop.”


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