Real Cause Of The Titanic Tragedy

By George Noga

For 100 Years Everyone Has Gotten it All Wrong

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. And for the past 100 years virtually everyone has gotten the true cause of the disaster all wrong. I am not disputing what caused the Titanic to sink, but rather what caused the needless loss of 1,513 souls.

The books and movies, especially the DiCaprio film, either are ignorant, dishonest or politically motivated. This blog post sets the record straight on the true cause and also dispels many other Titanic myths.

“The loss of life aboard Titanic was due entirely to government, specifically to the regulations of the British Board of Trade.”

The massive loss of life did not occur because White Star Lines wanted to save the cost of more lifeboats or because they objected to their aesthetics. The designer (Andrews), the builder (Carlisle) and White Star (Ismay) all deferred to the government agency (Board of Trade) that regulated shipping. The mindset was that there was no reason to question the government lifeboat requirement and that the regulators were on top of the situation. No one seriously challenged the Board of Trade (“BOT”). After all, why have regulations otherwise.

In fact, the BOT had not updated its regulations in 20 years. The regulations were promulgated at a time when 10,000 metric tonnes was the norm and 20 lifeboats were adequate. The fact that Titanic was 46,328 tonnes did not seem to occur to government. Today we better understand the pathology of government regulation; to wit:

  • Politicians and government bureaucrats prefer new regulations to updating existing ones. There is little glamour or political benefit in simply maintaining regulations.
  • Regulated entities (White Star) and hence the ship’s designer and builder are conditioned to comply with the diktats of the regulations and not with their goal or intent.
  • Once government takes charge, common sense and personal responsibility disappear and everything focuses strictly on regulatory compliance. Hello Bernie Madoff.

The state sycophant media often portray the Titanic disaster as caused by greed, hubris (desire to break a transatlantic record) and, above all, the sins of capitalism. The media also shamelessly flog class stratification, citing different survival rates among first, second and third class passengers. About that they also are wrong as demonstrated in the following section.

Debunking Other Titanic Myths

Even after a century, Promethean (Mythological note: Prometheus was a Titan) myths abound. Perhaps the biggest is that of survival rates among the different classes of passengers. It is true enough that a higher percentage of first class passengers was saved compared to third class. Anyone with basic numeration however, can shatter that myth.

Perhaps the transcendent fact of Titanic was that 74% of women and only 20% of men survived. What is just beneath the surface and pops right out for anyone to see, is that 44% of first class passengers were women compared to only 23% of third class passengers. After adjusting for the gender differences, it is incandescently obvious that the variation in first versus third class survival rates was slight. Moreover, any remaining differences were attributable to third class passengers’ greater reluctance to leave the ship, to part with their baggage and difficulty related to their location aboard ship. When third class passengers did reach the boat deck, they were accorded the same treatment as everyone else.

“It is myth that class stratification affected survival rates.”

The number of men who survived via the lifeboats usually is portrayed as evidence of male aggression and as throwing women and children under the bus – err, boat. But the facts are stubborn. There was enough lifeboat capacity to save all women and children and 550 men; remember, there were far more men than women on board.

Indeed, if the crew had loaded one man for each women or child, all women and children could have been saved. Moreover, this would have resulted in loading the boats more rapidly, reducing the fear level, keeping families together and ultimately saving far more lives. Men were not villains.

The Lesson of Titanic

The Titanic disaster was a failure of government, not capitalism. The real lesson of Titanic is not to place one’s faith in regulation. One hundred years later, we have not learned that lesson. Only now, the damage government can wreak is exponentially worse; instead of the 1,513 people that perished aboard Titanic, government is about to bankrupt an entire nation of 310 million – men, women and children of all classes.

Source Notes: Some data were taken from a blog post written by Chris Berg and published in the Wall Street Journal. Data for survival rates were taken from the formal investigation conducted by the British government as reported on various websites.


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