Robert Whaples reviews *Big Business*

An excellent review, here is the closing bit:

Labeling it a “love letter,” would render Cowen promiscuous (or is it adulterous?) since the letter is addressed to so many businesses. Seen as a fan letter, the book works much better. Cowen, a huge NBA fan, realizes that his hardwood heroes are supposed to be great at basketball. It’s OK to admire them from afar and not an affront if they cannot be your actual friends, as long as they can drain three-pointers. Likewise, with his business anti-heroes.

Do read the whole thing.


The difference is NBA players are actually good at playing basketball while business fail at conducting business but like some NBA stars they are just better at working the refs.

One example is Boeing who took shortcuts to avoid a new type rating for the 737 Max and worked the FAA to agree to software changes to keep the same rating for what was really a differently engineered plane with different flight characteristics. When you combine James McNerney's finance-driven style of "creating" shareholder value by cutting sound engineering practices honed under decades from GE's Jack Welch with McDonnell Douglas's military procurement culture that emphasized political cronyism, Boeing's old engineering culture had no chance. Expect a number of tomes and case studies to be written in the coming years about Boeing and GE as examples of how far America's former industrial titans have fallen. We might not be the manufacturing nation we once were but what remains is failing at its core competencies.

So the probabilities are that you are doomed if you bored a Boeing plane because they don’t actually make functional planes?

I’m just trying to understand your reasoning so I can understand exactly what you are arguing?

The equilibrium crash rate for an airplane manufacturer isn't zero.

Try explaining that to the market and the newly critical regulators. Let's hope we don't have to bail them out.

I've been realistic (critical) of Boeing's decision to cut corners for the reasons you indicate (getting the new airliner, with the more efficient, much larger engines, to market before Airbus was the goal even if it meant selling a defectively designed aircraft), but it may also reveal something about what's happened not only here but everywhere: the belief that tech can solve all of our problems. In the case of Boeing, a self-driving aircraft. Maybe the lesson here is less about the culture in Boeing and more about the culture across America in its belief in tech. No, tech can't solve all of our problems; indeed, tech is creating problems.

"have brought human beings into closer contact with each other than ever before, whether emotionally or intellectually, mostly through social media” (p. 100). This assertion sounds ludicrous to me"

Has social media growth done for personal relationships what economic growth has done for wealth, i.e. raised the lowest boats but also raised the gap between the richest and the poorest and made people more envious? Anyone with an internet connection can get some level of engagement.. but if you're really socially unproductive, unpleasant, uninterestesting, the comparative failure must feel worse. On the other hand, if you're a social entrepreneur then whatever your starting point, the sky's the limit for your vlog. Do kids still say vlog?

"In fact, it’s not a love letter, but rather a fan letter."

That's a good line.

The opening paragraph of the review also has this great sentence: "... like any good writer, [Cowen] tries to understand the big picture, but [he] knows that to see the big picture you also need to master and muster a lot of little details—and not just those in your area of expertise."

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