Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Similarities between the Shuttle Challenger and BP Oil Spill Disasters

Most of the major accidents we're all familiar with could have been easily prevented. The more I learn about the BP oil spill, the more I see similarities with the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster: 1) speed and schedule were put before safety; 2) vital information provided by engineers in the field was ignored by management; 3) those same engineers allowed themselves to be bullied into continuing their work, rather than escalating the matter or seizing the power necessary to take control and avert disaster; 4) an overconfidence due to prior records of good safety led to complacency; 5) the failure of a relatively cheap and simple component (in both cases, a type of rubber seal) ultimately triggered the catastrophic failure.

If you've never studied the results of the Challenger investigation, I can recommend it as an excellent case study in poor communication and bad management.

60 Minutes ran a great investigative segment on the causes of the BP oil spill. The video can be seen here.

The results of the Challenger investigation can be seen here.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Citigroup on "Plutonomy"

Plutonomy: where the rich rule with the support of the government. (Obviously, a derivation of the word "plutocracy.") Bill Moyers was just talking about this on his show and referenced a series of reports from Citigroup on the subject. (Ironically, taxpayers now own the majority of Citigroup!) When something becomes so obvious that investment houses start to build investment strategies around it, then you know it's for real, and in this case, we have a problem.

I have no problem with people making the most of their available opportunities and becoming rich, evenly astonishingly so. I only care that we have fair playing fields, and a government that is not in the hip pocket of a few. From one of the Citigroup papers:

"Our thesis is that the rich are the dominant drivers of demand in many economies around the world (the US, UK, Canada and Australia). These economies have seen the rich take an increasing share of income and wealth over the last 20 years, to the extent that the rich now dominate income, wealth and spending in these countries. Asset booms, a rising profit share and favorable treatment by market-friendly governments have allowed the rich to prosper and become a greater share of the economy in the plutonomy countries."

Click here to access Citigroup's report on plutonomy.