J. Miller and Company Blog

February 7, 2009

Train Wreck or a Plane Crash?

As an economics major I’ve watched the economy ‘unravel’, to use Paul Krugman’s term, with a sense of increasing fascination combined with dread.  I’ve often called it a ‘slow train wreck’.  As a consultant to the remodeling industry I’ve noticed  a certain tension in the air since spring 2008 as even the most successful and knowledgeable  owners of companies and leaders of the industry held fingers to the wind in an attempt to ascertain speed and direction.  And having recently finished “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell  I was struck by the similarities between his description of landing a jet on a slippery dangerous runway in the middle of a windstorm and our current economic  situation.

Dictionary.com defines “wind-shear: a  condition, dangerous to aircraft, in which the speed or direction of the wind changes abruptly.”  On the same page it suggests comparing that definition to “Micro burst:  a sudden, violent downdraft of air over a small area. Microbursts are difficult to detect and predict with standard weather instruments and are especially hazardous to airplanes during landing or takeoff.”

So between these two metaphors: the train wreck or the plane crash – which more closely describes what we’re experiencing?

I’m leaning toward the plane crash because of the greater complexity of maintaining control of a plane and its greater vulnerability to erratic phenomenon – wind shear among them.  The article below from Time Magazine lists the 12 primary causes of this crisis according to its author, Justin Fox, and seems to support my analogy by the sheer magnitude of the combined failures, any one of which alone might have led to a minor train wreck instead.

http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1869041_1869040_1869030,00.html

Economics and politics