A Dangerous Sense Of Safety

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Does our desire for safety leave us vulnerable to bigger disaster? A top economics reporter makes the case.

Chris Joseph, far left, inspects the flood waters near high tide in the historic downtown in Georgetown, S.C., Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. (AP)
Chris Joseph, far left, inspects the flood waters near high tide in the historic downtown in Georgetown, S.C., Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. (AP)

Greg Ip is chief economics commentator for the Wall Street Journal, and here’s what catches his eye in our country lately: that the more we try to avoid risk, the more risk we may incur. We fight forest fires until forests are stuffed with kindling ready to blaze. We regulate banking and bankers go looking for riskier investments. We live next to flood defenses, and the floods overwhelm. You can’t make it foolproof. But is too much safety and stability our big American problem these days? This hour On Point,  Greg Ip on safety and risk and American life now.
-- Tom Ashbrook


Greg Ip, chief economics commentator for The Wall Street Journal. Author of the new book, "Foolproof: Why Safety Can Be Dangerous and How Danger Makes Us Safe." Also author of "The Little Book of Economics." (@greg_ip)

Tom Hirschl, professor of sociology at Cornell University, where he is also director of the population and development program. Co-author of "Chasing the American Dream."

From Tom’s Reading List

The Guardian: The biggest risk we can take is to allow ourselves to feel safe -- "The fundamental insight of Ip’s new book, Foolproof, is that this very belief was a key factor in the lead up to the crash. When people believe they are safe, they take more risks – they drive faster, in motoring terms – and 'speed makes everything worse.' Or as the economist Hyman Minsky, whose work Ip revisits, put it: 'Stability is destabilising.'"

The Wall Street Journal: Cities Built to Endure Disaster — "Hurricanes, floods, wildfires and other natural disasters are becoming more destructive because so much more wealth stands in their way. People are flocking to cities that are in harm’s way because the very things that make them vulnerable to Mother Nature also make them productive and, usually, safe."

Financial Times: Review: ‘Foolproof’, by Greg Ip — "After a fatal US air crash in 1989, a vocal campaign came close to convincing the Federal Aviation Administration to require all child passengers to have their own seats. But cost-benefit analysis showed that while such a measure would prevent five aviation deaths over a decade, an additional 82 road deaths would be caused if families chose to drive rather than pay for dearer plane tickets."

Read An Excerpt Of "Foolproof" By Greg Ip

This program aired on October 14, 2015.


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