A damning, highly readable account of a once-great company brought to its knees by bad leadership.



Corporate malfeasance brings mayhem to the friendly skies in Bloombergcorrespondent Robison’s revealing exposé.

“Commercial aircraft are considered the world’s premier expression of manufacturing excellence,” writes the author, each plane involving the work of thousands of people. They are also made by massive and now near-monopolistic corporations whose fundamental duty, the ethos has it, is to maximize return to shareholders. There’s built-in conflict in a culture of builders committed to safety as against a culture of bean counters committed to shaving every conceivable cost and getting rid of anyone who questions them. So it was with the Boeing 737 MAX, a passenger plane built on the framework of the lithe 737. The newly released aircraft immediately caused the deaths of 346 people, and the investigation of the two crashes involved revealed both that “software had overridden humans” and that the Federal Aviation Administration had essentially turned over its watchdog functions to Boeing itself. Meanwhile, owing to a merger with former rival McDonnell Douglas and its much different corporate culture, Boeing’s executive ranks were filled with “skilled infighters” who displaced former executives less skilled in “the dark arts of corporate one-upmanship.” The new company was headed by a CEO who’d come from General Electric and “frequently lectured people about how Boeing needed to be a ‘team,’ not a ‘family.’ ” The cancellation of orders of the 737 MAX after the accidents cost Boeing billions of dollars in lost sales. Even so, writes Robison in his rigorous investigative report, the aircraft “will likely become common in airline fleets over the next several years”—American airline fleets, that is. As the author notes, Boeing was fined $2.5 billion for criminal fraud after company pilots lied to the FAA about that software, and the company has recently suffered more from competition from international companies believed to offer safer aircraft.

A damning, highly readable account of a once-great company brought to its knees by bad leadership.

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-385-54649-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2021

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.


“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.


Noted number cruncher Sperling delivers an economist’s rejoinder to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Former director of the National Economic Council in the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the author has long taken a view of the dismal science that takes economic justice fully into account. Alongside all the metrics and estimates and reckonings of GDP, inflation, and the supply curve, he holds the great goal of economic policy to be the advancement of human dignity, a concept intangible enough to chase the econometricians away. Growth, the sacred mantra of most economic policy, “should never be considered an appropriate ultimate end goal” for it, he counsels. Though 4% is the magic number for annual growth to be considered healthy, it is healthy only if everyone is getting the benefits and not just the ultrawealthy who are making away with the spoils today. Defining dignity, admits Sperling, can be a kind of “I know it when I see it” problem, but it does not exist where people are a paycheck away from homelessness; the fact, however, that people widely share a view of indignity suggests the “intuitive universality” of its opposite. That said, the author identifies three qualifications, one of them the “ability to meaningfully participate in the economy with respect, not domination and humiliation.” Though these latter terms are also essentially unquantifiable, Sperling holds that this respect—lack of abuse, in another phrasing—can be obtained through a tight labor market and monetary and fiscal policy that pushes for full employment. In other words, where management needs to come looking for workers, workers are likely to be better treated than when the opposite holds. In still other words, writes the author, dignity is in part a function of “ ‘take this job and shove it’ power,” which is a power worth fighting for.

A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7987-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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