4 thoughts on “Tim Bray on solving the economic crisis”

  1. I guess the solution after Hurricane Katrina was to sack everyone with an engineering degree…

    While there may be a lack of ethics among some engineers, I think it cannot be compared with what is happening among accountants and MBAs.

    I am not thinking about Wall Street.

    My school, one of the largest state university in Canada, nearly went out of “business” because of some foolish investments. These same investments were backed by expensive consultants from various large business firms which all stated that these investments were sound and that the school did not risk anything. My school paid millions to get this advice. Then it invested hundreds of millions building and buying land. It immediately got into trouble, but my school’s accountants as well as all the external firms stayed silent… until it was way too late.

    Looking back at their “analysis”, we discovered that these highly paid consultants… copied and pasted a lot of text into their reports… without even citing the source. For that alone, they should go to hell…

    Now, the government picked up the bill. We are saved. But all these MBAs and accountants have made a fortune with us, giving incorrect advice, and they will not have to do a thing or pay back a cent. Worse: the government is hiring these folks to justify other big projects.

    Engineers can back up their claims. They make mistakes, but if an engineer says that this bridge will hold, they often have rigour on their side. There is a method to what they do. They actually do some work. It seems to me that these large business firms will say whatever you want them to say. They start from the conclusion that the client needs, and they work backward. There is no science, no rigour in it.

    So. I say. Let us stop hiring them. They are just too expensive.

  2. Yes, we expect medical doctors or accountants to be responsible. Financial planners and accountants are not held to the same standard. At least in Canada, you cannot even hope to recover the fees you paid for bad advice. This makes their — often extravagant — fees totally unacceptable, especially when the economy is diving downward.

    But it is not just a legal issue. I once sold software for a living. I took full responsibility for bugs and errors in what I provided. I would often fix, for free, the implementation of an algorithm in the middle of the night so that a client would get too many problems. And I sold non-trivial components used in medical software.

    As a professor, I take full responsibility for the mistakes I make while teaching. If I make a mistake in some lecture notes, it happens, I will warn all my students and promptly provide a fix. I will not try to hide the mistake. I will not try to blame the bad economy or the weather. The buck stops here.

    Medical doctors appear to be bound to the same rules. Giving bad advice can get in big trouble. As far as I know, engineers are also bound to accept responsibility for their mistakes.

    I do not mean that we should put in jail professionals who make mistakes, but the current system is setup so that business consultants never have to face up their bad advice. That is wrong. Very wrong.

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