Thursday, October 09, 2008

Spiral to Disaster and Financial Engineering

There is a lot of blame going around for the cause of the current financial crisis. It is a laundry list and often seems to reflect the prejudices of the pundits rather than a rational consideration of what happened.

The striking thing about this mess for me is how closely the crisis resembles a spiral to disaster. Spiral to disaster arose (from memory) out of the fire on the Piper Alpha oil rig in the North Sea. The inquiry into the incident found that while a condensate leak initiated the fire, it was actually the failure or lack of various fail safes that ended in the loss of so much life.

While the financial crisis was kicked off by the sub-prime problem in the US, the reason it has gotten so bad is the lack or failure of the fail safes. There has been nothing to stop the spiral downwards into an ever increasing financial disaster.

The aftermath of the Pipe Alpha fire was 100 recommendations to improve safety on oil rigs, which then went on to being accepted industry wide. We can only hope that the aftermath of the financial disaster will be result in sensible measures that act as fail safes to avoid systemic failure and stop the spiral to disaster.