When I was in college, from 1980 to 1984, I did not have a credit card or an automobile. So why didn’t I have a car? Well, a simple deal was struck between my parents and me: "Earn good grades, live within a reasonable budget, and we’ll do everything we can to pay for your college education. If your grades are poor or if you buy a car, then the deal is off." This is the same deal my father received from his father and I was okay with it. Pullman, WA was easy to traverse on foot and the exercise was good for me anyway. As for not having a credit card, I never bothered to apply for one since I was always able to live within my budget; besides I found debt to be a bit frightening. So what does this have to do with airports and bus stations? I promise; I’ll get there.
Like many college students living away from home, I grew homesick — especially during my freshman year. Spokane, my hometown, was 80 miles away and I didn’t have a car to make that 90-minute drive. This is when I became quite familiar with bus stations. A round-trip bus ticket (between Pullman and Spokane) cost under $15. Greyhound busses were always dependable and the drivers were highly competent. A minor drawback, to taking the bus, pertained to the fact that it took a little over two hours to make the trip; as Greyhound took an alternative route to pick up passengers living in small towns within Washington’s Palouse country.
Having grown up in a middle-class neighborhood, our friends and neighbors typically were solid, hard-working folks sharing similar tastes and values. We knew about people who lived "on the other side of the tracks" but rarely associated with them. To say the least, my parents didn’t want me, or my two siblings, to pick up "bad habits" from other children living in rougher families. This is why it is important to be judgmental.
My numerous trips, via Greyhound bus, certainly allowed me to become familiar with a rougher strata of society. Bus stations, most certainly, were populated with the type of people my parents wanted me to avoid. Although I’d never make the cover of GQ Magazine, it was absolutely clear that I was traveling amongst individuals who held themselves to low standards. Back then, the archetypal bus passenger looked unhealthy, dressed poorly, used crude language, and had poor manners. Nonetheless, a weekend trip to Spokane was always worth it in order to get home-cooked meals and to spend time with friends and family.
By my sophomore year, the number of bus trips dropped dramatically as the coursework became more difficult and my younger brother had enrolled at Washington State University; so staying in Pullman, on weekends, was a no-brainer.
Shortly after graduating, in June of 1984, I was fortunate enough to find a job as a surety bond underwriter — which has been my profession ever since. By August of 1985, I had moved to Boise, ID and became a field underwriter. Part of my job entailed traveling. Accordingly, I found myself flying to such places as Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, and Seattle. For a young kid straight out of college, business travel was quite the fun adventure. Meeting with clients and agents turned out to be the most enjoyable part of my job; and it sure was nice to have a generous expense account allowing me to stay at excellent hotels and to dine at fine restaurants.
With respect to flying for business purposes, as a 23-year-old businessman, I must admit that I felt privileged. What a difference there was between the bus stations I had frequented and the airports with which I had become familiar. To be sure, the most striking difference pertained to the caliber of people I encountered. Well-dressed business professionals were plentiful. Families, with children, displayed great excitement as they embarked upon a family vacation. (In retrospect, it is my educated guess that, in most cases, parents had saved the money to pay for the entire family vacation. Hence, every aspect of the trip, including flying, was treated with respect and a sense of delight). Flight attendants, ticket agents, gate agents, and others were typically engaging, courteous, and well trained. Back then, these professionals did not see passengers as adversaries. Passengers were rightly seen as customers and the objective was to deliver a highly positive flying experience. Granted, this didn’t always happen, but the intent certainly was there.
Although I can’t pinpoint the exact date I noticed this — perhaps ten to twelve years ago — it became glaringly apparent that airports had become glorified bus stations and that airplanes were merely the "Greyhound busses of the sky." Let me be perfectly clear: I do not like flying anymore.
It isn’t the dreadfully stupid security measures, enforced by the useless Transportation Security Administration, that turns me off to flying — yet the TSA is definitely a huge source of irritation. What turns me off is the majority of my fellow passengers. To see "parents" passively watch their children run around while screaming, crying, and generally being obnoxious is nothing short of hellish. Of course, the incessant cell phone conversations have proven to me that the masses have very little to say and sure love to talk about it. Additionally, it never ceases to amaze me how, today, so many people are willing to discuss intimate details, via cell phone, while dozens of people are within earshot. For many, it seems as if life has become one big "reality" television show — with central casting located in each community’s airport. For me, the topper is enduring hours of sitting next to a pierced up, tattooed, video-game-playing passenger dressed in black clothing (as if this "unique" look hasn’t been done a few million times). It is no wonder that being a flight attendant is no longer viewed as a glamorous profession; for they have become little more than babysitters on flying busses.
America’s airports have provided me with abundant evidence that the U.S. is in a state of accelerating social decay. At the epicenter of this decay, in my opinion, is democracy itself. To buttress this assertion, I refer to Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s magnificent book Democracy: The God That Failed. In this book, Dr. Hoppe describes what happens to a populace living under nanny statism. He describes how the decivilizing nature of social democracy
…has led to permanently rising taxes, debts, and public employment. It has led to the destruction of the gold standard, unparalleled paper-money inflation, and increased protectionism and migration controls. Even the most fundamental private law provisions have been perverted by an unabating flood of legislation and regulation. Simultaneously, as regards civil society, the institutions of marriage and family have been increasingly weakened, the number of children has declined, and the rates of divorce, illegitimacy, single parenthood, singledom, and abortion have increased…In comparison to the nineteenth century, the cognitive prowess of the political and intellectual elites and the quality of public education have declined. And the rates of crime, structural unemployment, welfare dependency, parasitism, negligence, recklessness, incivility, pyschopathy, and hedonism have increased.
Short of visiting America’s prisons, I can’t think of a better place, than our airports, to witness the heavy hand of government and its resulting incivility. Who really enjoys going to the airport anymore?
Flying is relatively expensive, thus it is access to credit that allows Uncle Sam’s poster children, for decivilization, to "pay" for airline tickets. Of course, that vile institution, the Federal Reserve, has seen to it that credit be readily available for one and all. In the Fed’s own words: "Community affairs programs at the Board and the twelve Federal Reserve Banks promote community development and fair and impartial access to credit." James Grant stated it more bluntly in his masterful book The Trouble with Prosperity:
In 1991, credit-card purveyors mailed 975 million solicitations; in 1995, they mailed almost three billion, the great bulk of them attempts to persuade credit-card borrowers to switch brands. Not only were commercial banks and credit-card-issuing finance companies competing, but so, too, was a new kind of finance company dedicated to serving speculative-grade people. The new, so-called subprime, lender aimed to charge an interest rate high enough to earn a profit even after a certain and (as it was hoped) predictable credit loss.
As credit standards dropped, thanks to the Fed, millions of subprime credit card users found airline travel within reach. Consequently, we have the birth of the subprime airline passenger. The timing as to when subprime credit card lending took off closely correlates with my experience as to when flying became downright unpleasant. When incivility meets easy credit, a volatile cocktail emerges…and it is "in your face" every time you fly the unfriendly skies.
A financial storm is brewing. As a surety bond underwriter, I have seen it coming. Americans are heavily in debt. America’s mortgage-debt meltdown is dominating the financial headlines. Be assured that the next shoe to fall is credit card debt — and it is already happening.
As the credit bubble implodes, Americans will lose access to credit. In turn, the number of airline-passenger miles will plummet — especially, and thankfully, affecting the aforementioned subprime airline passengers. Consequently, there will be a painful shakeout amongst the airlines; with poorly financed carriers, such as American Airlines, falling into bankruptcy. Yet, from a selfish point of view, the silver lining will be an emergence (I hope) of a more genteel flying experience similar to what I had become accustomed to over 20 years ago.
Now, if we could just get rid of the TSA; and for that, we will need a Ron Paul presidency.
Eric Englund [send him mail], who has an MBA from Boise State University, lives in the state of Oregon. He is the publisher of The Hyperinflation Survival Guide by Dr. Gerald Swanson. You are invited to visit his website.