June 07, 2012

Our 'Titanic' economy

I just got done reading a good book, "The Shadow of the Titanic." The biggest takeaway for today?

Per the headline, the "Titanic" economy of today.

People hear about how income inequality today in America is as bad as since the Great Depression, and actually, that's not quite true. 

Reality? It's as bad as since World War I, or earlier. In other words, we have a Titanic economy. And, per the book, we have everything else of that era. That includes rich who look down on the poor (in steerage/third class) while encouraging the middle class (seated in second class) to do the same. We have the attitudes of social Darwinism or its religious variant in drag, the success gospel, that the poor caused their fate and deserve it, and ditto for the rich. The role of luck/contingency gets swept under the rug.

True, this attitude was more common, or at least more open, in Britain than in the U.S. But, that's in part because the U.S. then as today believed it was a classless society. Another one of those American myths of both then and now, and one that usually gets stronger as myth the less true it is. (Let's not forget the U.S. drive to sterilize "imbeciles," who were usually people too poor to have gotten much schooling, and how the sterilization push found support in Hitlerite Germany.)

Anyway, here's the review:

Good overall. There's no "Unsinkable" Molly Brown here, but there's plenty of stories about other Titanic survivors.

And, not all of them "survived" as well as Molly Brown. Many widows went through multiple post-Titanic marriages. Some survivors went heavily into debt, perhaps as a coping mechanism. And, several survivors committed suicide. Indeed, one survivor who did not commit suicide nonetheless said she had "died" on April 14, 1912.

There's a bit of a depressing angle to this at times, to be honest.

At the same time, there's several other good takeaways from the book.

One, of course, is the hubris. If we want to start the "Edwardian Age" (from Britain's perspective) late in Victoria's reign, and run it past his 1910 death, the Titanic should be coupled with Aug. 4, 1914 and WWI as twin death knells for it.

Another is the class divisions, reflected among other things in the price divisions between first, second and third class seats, and also in the difference between female deaths in first and in third class. (It's worth noting today that income stratification is just about as bad again.)

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