Foolproof: Why Safety Can Be Dangerous and How Danger Makes Us Safe

Foolproof: Why Safety Can Be Dangerous and How Danger Makes Us Safe

by Greg Ip


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How the very things we create to protect ourselves, like money market funds or anti-lock brakes, end up being the biggest threats to our safety and wellbeing.

We have learned a staggering amount about human nature and disaster — yet we keep having car crashes, floods, and financial crises. Partly this is because the success we have at making life safer enables us to take bigger risks. As our cities, transport systems, and financial markets become more interconnected and complex, so does the potential for catastrophe.

How do we stay safe? Should we? What if our attempts are exposing us even more to the very risks we are avoiding? Would acceptance of danger make us more secure? Is there such a thing as foolproof?

In Foolproof, Greg Ip presents a macro theory of human nature and disaster that explains how we can keep ourselves safe in our increasingly dangerous world.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316286046
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: 10/13/2015
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 259,978
Product dimensions: 9.30(w) x 6.10(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

Greg Ip is an award-winning journalist and the Wall Street Journal's Chief Economics Commentator. He's spent two decades in financial and economic journalism, including eleven years at the Wall Street Journal and six years at The Economist. He appears frequently on television and radio, including National Public Radio, PBS, MSNBC, and CNBC. He lives in Bethesda, Maryland.

What People are Saying About This

Liaquat Ahamed

Drawing on a fascinating range of stories about forest fires and flood control, football helmets and anti-lock brakes, bank runs and epidemics, Foolproof is about the unintended and often very surprising consequences of our attempts to protect ourselves from disasters. Illuminating and entertaining, this book that will change the way you think about the world of risk. --Liaquat Ahamed, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World

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Foolproof: Why Safety Can Be Dangerous and How Danger Makes Us Safe 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
CheliD More than 1 year ago
This isn't the type of book that I would normally read however, it was selected for my Book Club and the title did catch my interest. That said, the first few chapters made me feel that I was back in Economics class in college and that wasn't pretty. However, as I got into the book I found that the areas that were discussed were extremely thought-provoking.. The first several chapters dealt with risk involved with money - stocks, bonds, Federal Reserve and how it tries to control inflation and making our assets safer. Quoting the book I found this part about political interference regarding the changes in bank loan requirements which eventually caused some of the sub-prime mortgage fiasco very enlightening and expect that many Democrats will disagree with what was said. "Brad DeLong, an economist at the Univ of Calif at Berkeley, who had served in Clinton's Treasury from 1993 to 1995, described many years later why he and his fellow Democrats pushed deregulation (for home loans): "It had been more than 60 years since financial disruption had had more than a minor impact on overall levels of production and employment....The poorer 2/3 of America's population appeared to be shut out of the opportunities to borrow at reasonable interest rates,...Depression-era restrictions on risk seemed less urgent, given the US Federal Reserve's proven ability to build firewalls between financial distress and aggregate demand. New ways to borrow and to spread risk seemed to have little seemed worth trying. It wasn't." Financial issues were also low-balled concerning the threat of baby boomers approaching retirement without sufficient savings. Other areas of interest that were highlighted included: Football and hockey helmets and how they have changed the amount of risk that players accept, anti-lock brakes and seat belts and how they should have made driving safer but may have only increased the risk level that a driver will take, (I found it amusing that New Hampshire is the only state that does not require seat belt usage - their Motto -Live Free or Die.) FDA new drug approval - is faster with higher risk from possibly dangerous drugs better than slower and less risk that bad drugs will reach the market? Natural disasters and their increasing costs - Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy impacted millions of people and climate change was touted as partially to blame but what about the decision of a growing population to settle and build in areas that are not really conducive to settlement? If an area is repeatedly wiped out by hurricanes and other power natural occurring events, should the government continue to provide subsidies to rebuild? I kept reading wondering if I had a choice how much of a risk was I willing to take? Would I build my home in a floodplain or near a forest or on a cliff subject to mudslides? If my home had been destroyed, would I rebuild in the same place? It appears that as we increase the safety in our society were are counterbalancing by increasing the risk as well. Is this a good thing? I won't say this was a great book, at times it was hard to keep going, but it did give me lots to think about.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book claims that attempt to reduce risks to life, limb and financial security are often offset by increase in risky behavior by those whose risk was reduced. The origination of this idea is attributed to a few economists and psychologists in the 1970s. It actually originated in the 19th Century among railway executives who claimed that automatic couplers and braking systems were mot needed because their workers would take more risks when the devices were installed (C.F. Adams, Notes on Railway Accidents, 1879). Ip devotes a few pages to the methodological flaws in the research claiming the offsetting effect and notes great strides in disease and injury reduction but spends most of the book claiming the opposite. He uses anecdotes and methodologically flawed research to overstate his points in turgid prose. For example, he takes at face value a graph of deaths per miles driven since 1900 given to him by an economist. How can anyone know with any precision how many miles were driven in the early decades of the 20th Century when there were no data collection systems worthy of the name at the time? The graph tells us nothing about the different factors that contributed to motor vehicle death rates at different points in time. Per population, which is measured relatively accurately by the census, motor vehicle fatalities rose precipitously in the first three decades of the 20th Century as vehicle use grew, leveled off during the depression and World War II, and declined by half after the adoption of vehicle safety regulations in the 1960s and beyond despite enormous increases in motor vehicle use. The decline in relation to vehicle safety standards, belt use laws and alcohol law enforcement has been repeatedly researched as documented in my book, Injury Epidemiology, free online at Ip devotes virtually no attention to the crooks and liars in corporations, Wall Street and politics that delay and repeal sensible laws and regulations to reduce risk. He acknowledges research that shows that most people cannot assess risk of relatively rare adverse events accurately but repeatedly refers to the offset theory as applied to various risks. The text jumps back and forth between discussions of financial and health risks repeatedly stating dubious analogies.
JGD225 More than 1 year ago
Foolproof is a creative and engaging look at how the behavior and assumptions that brought on the global financial crisis get repeated in so many risky areas of modern life. Being "safe" turns out to be harder than you'd think. The competing philosophies get unpacked while delivering so many interesting factual gems throughout!