By the time we were 15 years into the 21st century, New York City had become the most expensive place to live in the country. It was $3000 dollars for a 700-square-foot rat nest in Brooklyn— just the kind of bragging point that gets a generation of never-faced-any-real-adversity, not-rich-but-rich-enough would-be artists and musicians to move to the city. It’s something they can brag about to the kids they graduated with over the internet, a kind of gentle “Yeah, you should probably stay in Kansas, I don’t really think you could make it here.” What they never say is that they pretty much weren’t making it here either. No one was really making it on their own… there were trust fund kids whose parents were supplying them with enough money to cover the essentials so they could spend the cash they made bartending on booze and amphetamines. There were art school graduates, living as “artists,” which mostly consisted of working as a barista or at some kind of artisanal pickle cannery while living with seven other people in a sort of sardine-can commune, talking a lot about art, but spending most of their time binge-watching TV shows on $3000 dollar computers. There were foreigners, living in similar conditions (but with a lot more actual work involved), lacking even the opportunity to give up on the city if they failed. All the poor were like that; and because they had no means of fleeing outward into the suburbs and country, they packed into the gaps in the city, trying to squeeze out enough money to live with three generations of family in apartments barely large enough to house three people. Heads down, working. We all knew at some point it would have to shift. Something would have to change. But no one would have expected the collapse of New York.
If you had asked people at the time to guess what would be the downfall of the city, they probably would have said something like “terrorism” or “global warming.” Reality— as it often does— brought about the end less “like a lightning strike” and more “like a slow moving mudslide.” First there was the presidential election. It appeared to be what most people had come to expect from elections, polarizing. In reality it was two candidates with very little difference between them apart from a few ideological policy points and their accompanying platitudes. At the same moment, the country was running headlong into another fiscal nightmare and a seeming governmental impasse over whether or not to raise the debt ceiling. By this time everyone had grown fairly accustomed to such narrowly-avoided disasters, but this one came at a time when political rhetoric had reached a fever pitch. Candidates and pundits preached like Southern Baptists about who was to blame. The Right claimed the Left was borrowing money from our children’s future (which was true); the Left claimed that the Right was holding the country hostage simply for the purpose of banging their drum (which was also true). It was a feeling we had all experienced, though never to that degree.
Then someone assassinated Rupert Murdoch. It was something no one had ever considered possible, though looking back, I’m not sure why. Throughout history powerful people have been targeted for assassination when they are in control, at the height of their power, and seemingly untouchable. As you may well guess, the country exploded. There were peaceful protests of course, but the riots were better for ratings; and as humans always tend to fall back on the “eye for an eye” rule of vigilante justice, an equal response was orchestrated in the attempted assassination of Warren Buffet. Tit for Tat, like we do. Meanwhile, the country went flying over the fiscal cliff and finally defaulted on its debt. What happened next might seem surreal to some, but you must understand how the average American reacts to the sudden onset of 200% inflation. Suddenly everyone was poor, and worse, the government couldn’t borrow any money to help. It was desperate, and people were scared.
Sometimes a preposterous idea posed at the perfect confluence of disasters, when given the right amount of push from the proper media and political channels, can shift from preposterous to feasible; it may in fact even start to seem like a good idea. Several weeks after his attempted assassination, Mr. Buffet announced a proposal: Berkshire Hathaway would combine with Newscorp to form the largest megacorporation the world had ever seen. Obviously there were quite a few antitrust laws to prohibit them from merging, so in exchange for clearance to do so, the newly-formed BHN corp would agree to pay off America’s national debt. All of it. At first it seemed insane, but the Right eventually saw it as “the free market solving a government-created problem,” and the Left saw it as “the rich finally paying for the disaster they had created.” Murdoch had been involved in politics before and had the trust of the American people. BHN only required one other thing— annexation. They would get NYC to themselves as a sovereign nation. I’ll explain the details of this later, but let’s just say that most of Wall Street were heartily in favor of being free from U.S. Government oversight. An idea this big must obviously be put to a popular vote, and it passed by a greater margin than projected. It even passed in New York. So, on the condition that BHN continue to operate on the American dollar, they became their own sovereign nation. The Nation of New York City, technically: “Berkshire Hathaway News Corporation presents New York City.”
Ten years later, no one calls it that anymore. This is far from the glowing free market Meritocracy we were originally promised. It’s not quite an apocalypse either, since any apocalypse must theoretically come to some sort of end, when the fires burn out and the souls are sorted. This is worse: the disaster that never ends. This is Wasteland.