When I was in my late twenties, with my natural tendency toward risk aversion mediated by my first steady teaching gig and lacking the parental responsibilities I wouldn’t encounter until years later, I decided to get a private pilot’s license. My most vivid memories of flying lessons are of the stall training. In this exercise, the instructor cuts the engine and the student pilot is told to climb…and climb…and climb, until the plane slows to the point that there is not enough air pressure under the wings to hold it aloft and the plane – with student pilot and instructor inside – literally begins to fall out of the sky. The pilot’s job is to recover control of the plane by lowering its “angle of attack” and then restart the engine before it enters an unrecoverable spin or loses too much altitude (i.e., falls out of the sky).
There are undoubtedly pilots-in-training who enjoy that feeling of loss of control and the accompanying adrenaline rush that happens just as the plane hits its stall point, but in me it instilled only fear; it was not a pleasant feeling at all. I started each lesson dreading the inevitable stall drill. Hitting the stall, the fear kept me focused on the recovery. I was drilled on this maneuver over and over again to the point where muscle memory and alert decision-making were in sufficient equilibrium to pass my flight test.
The closest I’ve felt to that feeling at the top of the climb is now, in this current economic moment. The capitalist economic system that was birthed, like our country, in The Enlightenment, has been climbing and climbing and climbing, but with that climb, the pilots have grown further and further away from all the folks on the ground. (By the way, I am one of the folks on the ground in this analogy.) It feels like the economy that has generated the lift to keep the proverbial plane in the air is thinning; its angle of attack has reached a steep pitch after 40 years of neoliberalism; my stomach tells me we are on the edge of that aeronautical stall. Of course, my gut is not a particularly reliable source for economic forecasting, but there are plenty of actual economists and other writers who have deemed the inevitable inequities and capital concentration of our current moment unsustainable. Even management guru Peter Drucker wrote of a “post-capitalist society” as long as twenty-five years ago.
….and so begins the Prologue to An Ouroboros: Art, Money, and Entrepreneurial Action, at least for now.
(The image is of a Cessna 172 owned by the UW Flying Club based out of Dane County Airport. I learned to fly in an earlier plane belonging to that club, a Cessna 152 numbered N48836.)