The Perfect Metaphor for the Two-Party Oligarchy of the 1%

Titanic Lessons and Life-Saving Solutions for a Sinking World

Many causes aggravated the situation resulting in the dooming of the “Unsinkable” Titanic.

Contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t just the iceberg that sank the Titanic but a set of “avoidable” circumstances that occurred in such drastic coincidence that doomed the ship that “God Himself could not sink.”

The iceberg was just the last link in a tragic chain of events, even the Titanic’s distress flares, seen by a nearby ship, were thought to be part of a fireworks display and ignored. Among the many conditions surrounding that terrible tragedy were; an unusually warm winter and a strong tide that brought plenty of icebergs in the Titanic’s path; complications arising from hull material and design; brittle iron rivets; the cancelling of lifeboat drills; increased ship speed to arrive early and overshadow the competition; poorly executed steering and engine maneuvering; confusion in the radio room; locked up binoculars and lastly; too few lifeboats to evacuate all those on board, (for a complete and detailed list scroll to the bottom.)

So did the iceberg really sink the Titanic? Or was it complacency, human error, excessive pride, greed or folly?

Almost three hours after it was hit around midnight on April 14, 1912, the “unsinkable” behemoth sailed memorably on as a symbol of impending doom for today’s Culture, Society, and Economy. Humankind’s ability to help bring calamity down upon itself is what makes the Titanic such a powerful image. Her use as a metaphor is not limited to an avoidable catastrophe; a lot of the imagery connected to the Titanic is simply fascinatingly tragic. Describing a situation as Titanic can also mean hubris, over-confidence, the sense that we’re too big to fail, the impossible happening and disregard for conditions.

The Titanic is a valid metaphor for the existence of the United States of America as the world’s sole superpower, as well as the world’s largest economy. The sheer size of the Titanic contributes to her allegorical power and illustrates so well the unsurmountable challenges facing future American administrations as they steer a course clear of looming Economic, Political and Environmental disasters.


If we’re going to accept the Titanic metaphor for the USA, we should at least know where the USA is in this metaphorical story? Has it already struck the “iceberg?” or has it barely left the docks? Is it aware of the dangers ahead, and if so, can it turn the ship around in time? Or will it require rigorous manoeuvering in a sea littered with allegorical icebergs?

Can a catastrophe be avoided and if not, will the collision outcome be a total headlong loss of the USA’s economic and political dominance in the world, or will it be just another “market correction” hit that will disable it until help (from the tax payers) arrives? Personally, I believe it is still sailing smoothly but with a foreboding sense that there is a lot of dangerous ice in the waters up ahead.

Whether the USA and world economies are teetering on the brink, or whether it’s just another market correction, the “Titanic” political system is no longer controlled by a “Captain of State” whose priority is the health and safety of all the passengers but by an obedient skipper who only serves the interests of the “Titanic company” President, his first class passengers; the oligarchs, the multinationals and the finance capitalists.

Unless “we the passengers” take control of the ship and instruct the Captain to point it towards the harbour of social safety and healthcare for all, forcing an end to the tax breaks for the rich, demand that the captain gets out of our many wars in the world, and reduce the gargantuan U.S. defense budget, the “Titanic” U.S. economy that everybody thinks is unsinkable will be unmistakably headed towards the iceberg of devastation.

First- and third-class; increasing class disparities of wealth and income

The United States remains the richest and strongest nation in the world, its economy the biggest, fastest, most luxurious ocean liner around. Americans may all be passengers on the same ship, but they have very different experiences of the journey based upon their class position and economic standing. On the Titanic, first-class passengers spent their days relaxing in reading rooms, ate sumptuous meals before retiring to their spacious staterooms. Passengers in third class did not have it as good. They were crowded into congested, unpleasant holds were only a few bathtubs were available per several hundred passengers. Locked gates in the steerage were in place to keep the travelers in a confined area until they could be processed on shore. Elsewhere, sailors were stationed at moveable barriers.


In many ways, the tale of the Titanic offers a powerful metaphor for key features of American society and politics, characterized by massive disparities in wealth and income that separate first- and third-class passengers. These gaps are greatest in the U.S. thanks to the “Neoliberal” principles that brought it to the crossroads of unprecedented wealth and inequality after a half-century of corporate-backed policies designed to favor the few at the expense of the many.

In a talk recently podcast on Barsamian’s, called “The human costs of Neoliberalism,” Henry Giroux, a leading social and political critic discusses the increasingly negative impact of Neoliberalism across the world, politically, socially and economically. In it he describes Neoliberalism as one of the most pernicious and destructive aspects of late Capitalism. Its “take no prisoners” approach has caused enormous human suffering. Promoted in the ‘80s by Reagan and Thatcher it includes: tax breaks for the rich and powerful, privatization of public services, cutting social welfare programs, attacks on unions, violations of labor laws, passage of so-called free trade agreements allowing for unfettered capital investment flows, minimal government regulation of financial institutions and corporations, and the endless marketization of society. Neoliberalism views people simply as consumers. This system is driving the planet and humankind into an untenable situation. It was created by the few, for the few. It is not a law of nature. It can be dismantled by the many.


What’s hurting the U.S. economy is total government spending. The deficit is an indicator that the government is spending so much money that it can’t even get around to stealing all of the money that it wants to spend. But the tip of the iceberg is not what hit the Titanic – it was the 90 percent of the iceberg under water. – Grover Norquist

During the talk Giroux quotes a published Princeton University study in which it is claimed that “of all the policies that have been made and produced over the last 50 years in the U.S., 95% of them had nothing to do with the needs of the American people;” this fact Henry asserts “proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that we no longer live in a Democracy but an Oligarchy.”

Many of these policies were mirrored by successive presidents, who continued to talk in the traditional language of the liberal class, a language that’s purported to care about their interests and concerns, while utterly betraying them. The resulting unregulated free-market capitalist economy has produced economic progress and much prosperity for some, but also a significant degree of poverty and inequality that is wider in the USA than that found in other economically developed countries such as Canada, Europe, Scandinavia and Japan.

Another metaphor for the 2008 financial meltdown

The voyage of the Titanic is as valid a metaphor today as it was for the conditions that existed back in 2008 when global capitalism hit the “financial meltdown” iceberg. But the 2008 berg is puny compared to today’s massive ice floes of worldwide instability. Some people think we’re about to undergo awakenings of several magnitudes of the 2008 crash, while others see our current situation with the same cavalier attitude as those of the Titanic’s president and his captain.

In an interview during the release of his film “Titanic” movie director James Cameron described the Titanic as a metaphor adding that; “It’s about the hubris of the ship owners; it’s about society at that time. It was a very optimistic time: technology was advancing; everything looked like there would be a great future. The Titanic stood for that. And then, suddenly, the unthinkable happened, as if all of this went down with the Titanic.”

He continues: “There was the first class, second class, third class and the crew. You had the rich and mighty, the middle class, the lower class and the government. And the government was influenced by the wealthy — And they were driving this ship way too fast, quite deliberately playing with the lives and the future of the other people. And when they saw the iceberg, it was too late.”


Michael Hull, in a satirical piece, reinterprets Cameron’s interview word for word describing Mortgage Derivatives as a metaphor adding that; “They are about the hubris of bankers; about society at that time. It was a very optimistic time: technology was advancing; everything looked like there would be a great future. And the Mortgage Derivative stood for that. And then, suddenly, the unthinkable happened, as if all of this went down with the derivatives.”

He continues: “There was the rich class, the middle class, the poor and the stockbrokers. And the stock market was influenced by the wealthy — And they were driving the stock market way too fast, quite deliberately playing with the lives and the future of the other people. And when they saw the collapsing house market it was too late.”

When good actions are punished and bad actions are rewarded as they systemically are in the global financial sector, there’s always an incentive to leech off investors. It’s no wonder world markets gyrate through major crises once a decade or so. There are too many greedy bankers and financiers making money out of the way the system works right now, and those people frankly are at the helm, and aren’t ready to let go. This piracy happens in broad daylight, under the noses of government regulators, most of whom are ‘revolving-door policy’ members of Wall Street’s “too big to fail, nail, and jail” club.

The Titanic’s survival records read as a parable for the Wall Street bailout

The Titanic’s public records don’t shy away from what the sinking and its aftermath revealed about the privileges and prejudices of the ship’s elite. There was the issue of class and money: the rich had easy access to the Titanic’s lifeboats while the poor struggled to find their way to the upper decks where the lifeboats were located.

A lifeboat-by-lifeboat breakdown tells a tale of chaos, in which for the first half hour no rules, moral or otherwise, seem to have held sway. The overall survival rate for first-class passengers was 63%. In third class, it was 25%. Interestingly, adherence to the codes of gentlemanly chivalry seems to have been most completely internalized by the men in second class, just 8% of whom made it into lifeboats, compared to 33% of the captains of industry in first class. Of the men in first class—the percentage of survivors was roughly the same as that of children in third class.

How appropriate for this cartoon’s depiction of passengers in second class. At the time of this writing, Congress shot down an amendment to an FAA funding bill that would have mandated more legroom for passengers on airplanes. The bill represents a victory for airlines that have kicked back against any proposed regulation of legroom. It seems that the U.S. congress is determined these days to treating its constituents like sheep! There’s your Congress working for ewe.

How appropriate for this cartoon’s depiction of passengers in second class. At the time of this writing, Congress shot down an amendment to an FAA funding bill that would have mandated more legroom for passengers on airplanes. The bill represents a victory for airlines that have kicked back against any proposed regulation of legroom. It seems that the U.S. congress is determined these days to treating its constituents like sheep! There’s your Congress working for ewe.

Everyone agrees that Obama, in the response to the 2008 financial crisis, relied on duplicitous advice from the very people that brought the crisis on in the first place, but who helped fund his campaign. Sold on to the deceitful concept of trickle-down economics Obama threw money at the banks rather than help the hapless homeowners. Instead of invigorating the economy from the bottom up, he instead opted for a rescue strategy that focused on stimulating the economy from the rich down, and it didn’t work very well. Why was all that bailout money in the financial crisis directed to the banks, and not directly to the people, when common sense would dictate that money given directly to individuals would have been more effective for restoring the economy? Why didn’t the third class women and children have better access to the Titanic’s lifeboats until it was too late?

U.S. version of capitalism may be considered extreme market capitalism

The examples of the Titanic extend even beyond the Wall Street bailout. The opulence on board while the ship’s owners skimped on  lifeboats is all too  reminiscent  of the immense resources society devotes to satisfying hedonism, promoting celebrity culture and hyper consumerism, while investments in the public sector, such as schools, the environment, and the safety net are stressed and under-funded. Social spending in the United States is 40 percent lower than it would be if policymakers didn’t disproportionately respond to the rich. Well over 50 percent of the population lives on an annual income of $30,000 or less, the median income of a full-time male employee is lower than it was 40 years ago. The U.S. does not provide enough lifeboats to those who need medical care, child care, or income support.


Capitalist America is now the most unequal of all the developed nations; it has become an Oligarchy: “the best Democracy money can buy.” A country run at the expense of its citizenry by and for the super-rich who are less supportive of social spending, more supportive of budget cuts, and opposed to government guaranteeing jobs and reducing inequality. The result is obvious: economic inequality that further strengthens the power of the already wealthy, creating a self-fueling cycle.

Not only do the economic elites control the system, but more importantly, the donor-backed politicians have no vision beyond the self-interest of the healthcare, banking and other inordinately powerful and influential industry groups who support them. America’s crooked version of “casino capitalism” floats the already rich ever higher and flushes the working class down the dark and icy waters of poverty and neglect, it is no secret that newly elected leaders almost always betray the people who elected them. That’s because they are beholden to the oligarchs who bankrolled their campaigns. No wonder it is those very oligarchs that are becoming increasingly despised by both the left and right, as is evidenced by the rise of populist parties.

A former health insurance executive, Wendell Potter has sounded the alarm; “It’s concerning to me. I really do think that taking that much money from the industry should concern voters. The candidates say that they would not be influenced by pressure from the industry. But I know how big money makes a big difference in Washington.” Wendell has looked at the pharmaceutical industry in particular, and how that industry is able to influence public policy in ways that they never lose. He adds; “They do this through campaign contributions to presidential candidates and congressional candidates, and through lobbying money, that they spend more than any other industry, to get what they want in terms of policy and regulation.” Any rational discussing of health care should begin with acknowledging that the “for profit” health care system is a problem and must be destroyed. But this will never happen, because, the industry’s lobbyists and their money dominate the legislative process itself.


As it happens, policies to reduce the power and influence of the elite class over politics have broad public support, across all parties. The problem, of course, is getting the politicians already under the sway of powerful interests to pass laws limiting their influence over politics. The American people need to ask a very simple question, if contributions from Wall Street and other powerful special interests have no influence over candidates, why do these special interests keep making huge campaign contributions?

When the order came to board the lifeboats, the 1st and 2nd class passengers got most of the available seats

Whereas first- and second-class passengers were guided to the boat deck by many stewards, there was no one to help the stranded 3rd class passengers find their way through the maze of corridors, staircases and public rooms to reach the lifeboats, which were on the first and second class promenade. No lifeboats were stored in the third class sections (steerage) of the ship.

You can feel the sense of urgency that rouses progressives when they see all too clearly that the dream of egalitarianism is dying. The world’s quintessential middle class society is on the way to becoming its first ex-middle class society. But not all is gloom and doom, we can be pessimistic, despair and help ensure that the worst will happen, or be optimistic, and grasp the opportunities that exist and help make our world a better place.

The solutions are simple to imagine,” says union advocate Sean McElwee in a recent Huffington Post article, “but more difficult to put into practice. Unions promote both economic and political equality – they both push up the wages of workers and mobilize politically for the interests of the middle class. Automatic voter registration would boost turnout, and combined with non-partisan get-out-the-vote operations offers the most viable route to boosting turnout among low-propensity individuals. Disclosure of campaign donations, robust public financing of elections and limits on the ability of corporations and wealthy individuals to influence elections could alleviate the pervasive influence of money over politics.


As for taxation reform, when asked by the Gawker in an August 2015 interview where he would set the income tax rates, if it was up to him? The respected American economist Joseph Stiglitz answered: “The first order of business should be creating a fair tax system, so that we tax dividends and speculators at the same rate that we tax ordinary income. That would be huge. That’s where I’d begin (and so would Bernie sanders evidently.) Then after that, the second thing for raising more revenue that I’d focus on is environmental taxes. They have the advantage of taxing bad things rather than good things. Everybody agrees you should pollute less, and you can raise revenue by encouraging people to pollute less. A carbon tax. Those are the two places I’d begin. I do think we can sustain a significant increase in [income tax] progressivity. But for the additional sources of revenue, I would begin with those two first.

It’s not the lack of imagination or basic common sense that’s the obstacle to finding good workable solutions to all our problems; it is that often those very solutions are often disadvantageous to those in power.

Defense spending is exacerbating structural inequalities in the economy

Designed for the fastest Atlantic crossing, the Titanic was built principally from lessons learnt from advances in warship construction; it was a giant leap forward in marine engineering. It was expressly suggested that the company President Bruce Ismay, was responsible for the disaster by requesting the captain to increase the ship’s speed and neglect precautions which would have otherwise been taken.

A first-class survivor later revealed having been shown an ice warning by Ismay. When asked “Will you be slowing down?” Ismay replied “Certainly not.” Instead, they would be speeding up. “It was not then the inevitable accident we had hitherto supposed,” another survivor wrote, “the sudden plunging into a region crowded with icebergs at such speed could have been avoided.” Bruce Ismay was never tried nor convicted, and has lived for ever in disgrace after fleeing the stricken vessel.

And if the economic woes are not enough, add to them the fact that the USA outpaces all other nations in military expenditures spending roughly the size of the next seven largest military budgets around the world, combined.


In a September 2015 speech, Wilkerson Lawrence Wilkerson, an experienced adviser who worked as Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff, during the Bush administration, argued that America is an empire that may be on the brink of collapse then proceeded to list a number of features of declining empires. He summarizes; “They wind up, for example, with less than one percent of their population and it’s usually a mercenary percent, bleeding and dying and defending the other 99%. Sound familiar?” he said. “They usually wind up with bankers and financiers running the real power instruments in the empire (also the one percent.) Sounds familiar? They (empires) usually wind up with great hiccups in their financial and economic and trade picture that they have increasing difficulty in managing to survive. Sound familiar? These are the signs of the travails of empire.”

The old order is dying; A new one’s being born

It will become more and more evident that a future progressive candidates could one day win the U.S. presidential elections and change the face of the country to one where all people do well. Not just the super-rich. One thing is certain, the Two-Party Duopoly’s stranglehold on American politics will be seriously undermined after the 2020 elections. The wheel of power is slowly turning (as it must) towards a multi-faceted political system that truly reflects the will, consciousness, aspirations, and demographics of the American People.

So, are we witnessing the end of the “Neoliberal” politico-ideological cycle with the appointment of a future Captain that must capably steer the U.S. “Ship of State” away from the icebergs of oligarchy and anarchy? Or will the next skipper be drinking and frolicking with the ship’s oligarchs at the exclusive first class restaurant? While in the bandstand, the band plays on, on the deck, they’re re-arranging the deckchairs, and in the radio room the operator’s distress message reads: “We have struck a berg, engine room nearly full, sinking by the head, come quick!”


The tragedy of the sinking of the Titanic offers concrete lessons for our failing social sector and an indelibly wrenching story of blind arrogance and its terrible consequences. Here are the conditions that were blamed for the terrible disaster:

  1. While the makers of the White Star Line ship had lavished expenses on Titanic’s interiors, they had cut corners by building the hull sections with zinc, a material notoriously brittle when exposed to freezing temperatures. These sections were then bolted together with inferior quality iron (rather than steel) rivets linking the bow and stern’s steel plates.
  2. A relatively mild winter that produced a bumper crop of icebergs in the North Atlantic; a tide that sent a large number of them southward.
  3. Warnings of icebergs up ahead were ignored by the ship’s captain, owners and crew.
  4. Acting under pressure from the ship’s owners to better the crossing time and impress the competition the captain orders a cruising speed that in the context of the ice warnings he had received, was unsafe.
  5. The crew was so sure of the Titanic’s unsinkability that they began to ignore basic safety rules.
  6. Lifeboat drills were cancelled.
  7. Preoccupied with sending trivial passenger messages before the ship went out of range, the wireless operators payed no attention to multiple urgent iceberg warnings.
  8. A wireless operator was arguing with his counterpart in the SS Californian who consequently went to bed early. (All passenger ships were subsequently required by law to have round-the-clock wireless.)
  9. An unregulated wireless spectrum and confusion about emergency signal types (SOS vs CQD) were also partly to blame for the “Titanic” disaster.
  10. The lookouts in the crow’s nest didn’t have binoculars for they were locked up aboard the ship.
  11. A steersman that misunderstood a command, negotiating the wrong turn of the tiller.
  12. Orders to reverse thrust helped reduce the ship’s maneuverability.
  13. Too few lifeboats. The survivors–those who successfully made it onto the lifeboats–were largely people traveling first class. In fact, the third-class passengers were not even allowed onto the deck until the other passengers had abandoned the ship. Many bigwigs jumped onto lifeboats though there were women and children still waiting to board.

Feature Image Courtesy of: Best of, Worst of Blog

Cartoon by Seidel Courtesy of: Queens Crapper

A caricature drawing: Courtesy of: Dave Granlund

Wall Street Sign Courtesy of: Wikipedia Commons

Revolutionary forks, Courtesy of: The Revolutionary Gazette

Staircase Courtesy of: The Artifact Exhibition

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