Allegories of collapse

The whole world is our condominium. (Chandan Khannan)

On Thursday June 24 a condominium tower collapsed in Surfside, Florida, with much loss of life. The building was forty years old and seems to have been a desirable address, with a four-bedroom penthouse selling for nearly $3 million in 2020. It was, however, in poor condition due to some major structural defects, especially the pouring of a flat pool deck. The condo’s management board had found out about this and suggested repairs but apparently couldn’t get their members to sign off on having the work done. And, as time went on, the work only became more necessary, and more expensive.

It’s hard not to see in this, and many have, something of an allegory for the state of the nation. Crumbling infrastructure needs to be repaired, but ownership doesn’t want to spend any money on a common good and would rather see the whole thing fall to pieces than have to pay for fixing it (perhaps another instance of Galbraith’s Law).

I don’t want to use this tragedy as an excuse to beat up on the Boomers again. What’s most disturbing about the story is that, given the situation they found themselves in, the condo owners (that is, the people living in the tower and most directly at risk) made the right call.

The community of Surfside already has an expiry date, as its local government knows that the whole place is going to be underwater soon so they’ve even started up a relocation fund in their budget to pay for citizens who will have to leave. What would be the point of making major renovations, assuming they were even possible, at this point? If one were to do a cost-benefit analysis the smart thing to do was probably to cross one’s fingers and hope to keep things going as long as possible, allowing elderly owners to cash out around the same time they might be expected to die. This makes sense if you’re old, your home constitutes your major financial asset, and the system is too broken or just too expensive to fix.

Now look around and think of all the things that are falling apart, from the environment to democracy, and think of how little real effort is being made to protect and possibly save them. Has a calculation been made that the investment isn’t worth it? I can’t help but feel that, on a moral level, this is what the end times look like.

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