GOOD infographic: largest bankruptcies in history


GOOD magazine's infographic reveals that recent bankruptcies dwarf Enron's collapse. That gives Jeff Skilling something to be proud of!


  1. Thanks kpkpkp – I clicked on everything thinking it would link, but it didn’t.

  2. Comparing assets of banks to assets of industrial corporations is EXTREMELY deceptive. Using market value would be much more informative. In 2007 the market value of Lehman’s was under $40 billion.

  3. Graphics are very pretty but not actually “GOOD.” One of the principles of designing a good graphic representation of numeric data is that the AREA of the graphic should be proportionally related to the number being represented. When you’re making a bar chart where the width of the graphics is constant, than the length is proportional.

    But in this case where they’re using a boats, by increasing the length proportionally, the area increases disproportionally, thus making the Enron collapse visually appear to be 3 or even 4 times the size of the WaMu collapse, when in reality it was only twice the size. Sorry guys, but pretty as this is, its actually a failure.

  4. @Kyrelle: Not only that, but they’re representing 3D objects: ships. A ship twice as long and the same shape is eight times as large.

  5. @Kyrelle – +1

    Pretty, but not straightforward or very practical. Why use the vertical axis for time? Yeah it kind of looks like waves, but if you’re gonna do that then make it *actually* look like waves…

  6. @Kyrelle: Correct principle, wrong conclusion. WaMu was 327B vs. Enron’s 67B is a 4.88x ratio, but the vertical scale is 6.6 vs. 3.0, or a 2.2x ratio. If you estimate the areas as boxes, then they should scales at a square root of the scalar, and 2.2 x 2.2 = 4.8, so I think the chart is correct.

  7. Given the way these bailout proceedings are being handled, sinking ships aren’t an appropriate graphic anyway. I would have gone with lifeboats, or maybe just a crew change.

  8. @ Somnity

    I have no idea what you just said, but I am going to agree with Kyrelle on principle :)

  9. It’s not good, it’s just pretty.

    “When a graph is made, quantitative and categorical information is encoded by a display method. Then the information is visually decoded. This visual perception is a vital link. No matter how clever the choice of the information, and no matter how technologically impressive the encoding, a visualization fails if the decoding fails. Some display methods lead to efficient, accurate decoding, and others lead to inefficient, inaccurate decoding.”

    – William S. Cleveland, The Elements of Graphing Data, Hobart Press, 1994, p. 1

    According to that definition, this is a bad display method for the reasons Kyrelle gives.

    One day, people will eventually see that eye candy and infoviz are not necessary compatible. By then, we would have also passed a law to ban PowerPoint too.

  10. If Edward Tufte were dead, he would be spinning in his grave. This is a terrible, TERRIBLE “infographic”, made up almost entirely of what Tufte calls “chartjunk”. Some issues:

    (1) Is the value of the bankruptcy represented by the length of the ship, or the area of the ship?

    (2) If the area of the ship is what counts, the hulls and superstructures create an uneven and unclear representation of just how much area each ship represents.

    (3) Are we supposed to assume the ships continue beneath “the water”, or is only the visible part of the ship relevant.

    (4) Lack of baseline makes it hard to compare the data.

    (5) Apparently, the ship sizes DO NOT even reflect the true sizes of each bankruptcy. There are only 6 sizes of ships, and each bankruptcy is classed into one of these 6. Wonderfully useless.

    (6) Are these inflation-adjusted dollar values? The “infographic” does not tell us.

    In sum, this graphic is entirely useless. Whoever made it should be sentenced to hand-plot bar charts of customer satsifaction survey data with a ruler and graph paper for the rest of his natural life.

  11. Seems to me it would be much more interesting to see how many jobs were lost per bankrupcy.

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