On the evening on April 14th, 1912, was someone banished from the Titanic’s captain’s table for being so rude as to mention that the ship was sinking?
It troubles me deeply that bringing up the subject of immanent collapse is regarded as uncouth, while blithely talking about the satisfactory present and an ever-more-agreeable future is not seen as irresponsible denial. (“Forget about the lifeboats, and try some of this pheasant. It’s delicious!”)
We were having dinner last week with two other couples. Both are considerably more affluent than we, but not One Percenters – perhaps Five Percenters. They were bloviating about the recovery and bright prospects for the future and I finally got exasperated and declared that the United States will suffer economic collapse within the next decade. This, of course, is a grievous breech of social etiquette today – especially if your dinner companions’ professions include information technology and the airlines industry. But I have been doing a slow burn for some time over the fact that people like these continue to be enablers for the scoundrels who have already destroyed our economy and political system. Why should their complacent denial be accepted as polite dinner conversation, when looking realistically at the situation or, indeed, even trying to warn people about what’s coming is considered antisocial?
Having already caused gasps around the table, and after being derided as foolish and delusional by the husbands, I decided to take them to the mat: I announced that I will back my declaration with a wager of a thousand dollars. One guy immediately backed off, while the other rose to the challenge. I told him that I would put the wager in written form for his consideration the next time we get together.
My first draft follows. If you have any thoughts or suggestions they are, of course welcome. If not, then I hope this might at least amuse you – or possibly even your readers – as an interesting thought experiment.
Wagering that collapse will not occur (“Con” Party):
Date of Wager: ____________
Duration of Wager (“Duration”): ___________ years
Amount of Wager (“Amount”): _________ ounces of gold
This wager regards “Pro” Party's contention that “The American Way of Life” will have collapsed within Duration of Date of Wager. The Amount of this wager is in ounces of gold in bullion form. Each of the Parties to this Wager agree to hold said Amount in reserve in physical form, in private, non-commercial storage, and agree not to pledge it for any other purpose or encumber it in any other way. On or shortly before the Duration of the Wager expires, the Parties agree to come together and make a good faith effort to reach a consensus as to whether collapse has occurred. If they fail to reach a consensus, Wager is declared null and void; if they do reach a consensus, then the Party that lost the Wager will remit the Amount to the Party that won. This Wager can also be settled before Date + Duration, in favor of “Pro” Party, at “Con” Party's sole discretion. If the Parties are unable to meet on or before Date + Duration, Duration is automatically extended until such a time when the Parties are able to meet and settle the Wager. The Wager becomes null and void upon the death of either Party.
Since the word “collapse” is open to subjective interpretation, this document is intended to provide an objective framework for the Wager's resolution. In the context of this Wager, the term “collapse” means that key components of the infrastructure of American life, as enumerated and described below, will have been compromised so profoundly that our lives will have been fundamentally changed. For the purposes of this Wager, collapse will unambiguously involve all of the following elements:
1. The stock market will have suffered another collapse more severe than that of 2008.
2. Several major banks will have failed. The FDIC will be unable to compensate depositors.
3. The power grid at the regional level will have suffered numerous failures, the cascading effects of which will decimate commerce.
4. There will have been severe disruptions of the nation’s fuel supply, some of geopolitical in origin.
5. The Internet will have gone down with increasing frequency and duration, with catastrophic commercial repercussions.
6. Air travel will have become inaccessible for most people. Most shipping and transport will have reverted to more rudimentary forms of conveyance over much shorter distances.
7. Many schools, colleges and universities will have shut down. The old business model for higher education will no longer pertain for most providers or consumers and many young people will be pressed into service for vocations essential to survival.
8. Many occupations will have ceased to exist. The financial and information technology sectors will have been essentially wiped out.
9. The food supply will become almost everyone’s foremost concern. There will be widespread hunger and malnutrition. Supply lines will have collapsed to the local level and frequently-empty grocery store shelves will have given rise to widespread kitchen gardens.
10. Few will any longer regard whatever remains of the American political process with anything but bitter contempt. Regularly-scheduled elections at any level may no longer be taken for granted, and many citizens will regard some sort of non-elected leadership—perhaps even martial law—as preferable to further malfeasance by elected officials.