How the Invention of Spreadsheet Software Unleashed Wall Street on the World
Aug 19, 2019
By Janet Burns
In 2010, a pair of researchers published a controversial economics paper. It was cited by UK politicians to justify austerity measures that sparked economic and employment crises, and anti-austerity protests—measures that the UN later called “punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous” inflicting “great misery.” In 2013, however, this widely influential paper was found to have been substantially off in its estimates, thanks in part to a simple spreadsheet error: specifically, “a few rows left out of an equation to average the values in a column,” the Guardian wrote at the time.
…Throughout the ‘80s and early ‘90s, big stacks of printouts were also the “go-to item” on Wall Street during meetings, according to Will Deringer, assistant professor of science, technology, and society at MIT, and a former investment banking analyst at the Blackstone group.