Greg Ip

Articles by The Economist’s U.S. Economics Editor

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

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Foolproof coverMy new book, Foolproof: Why Safety Can be Dangerous and How Danger Makes Us Safe  is a fresh, entertaining and provocative story about financial crises and other catastrophes. You can pre-order it by clicking on one of the links below. It will be go on sale on Oct. 13.

Editorial reviews:

One of the Financial Times’ best books of 2015.  “This book is about financial crises and how, in trying to avoid them, regulators and central bankers sometimes create the conditions that cause them. But Ip explains this paradox through entertaining and provocative parallels with the worlds of civil aviation, flood management and forestry. Sometimes, he points out, it is better to allow a small fire to burn than to extinguish it and risk a bigger conflagration.” Full review by Andrew Hill: “Compelling  … Ip’s timing with Foolproof could not be better, as memories of the 2008 crisis fade.”

“Our country is always at risk for sloppy thinking about, well, risk. Fortunately, there’s an antidote: Wall Street Journal columnist Greg Ip’s new book, a short, sharp history of the United States’ never-ending search for safety — against every kind of threat, from terrorism to forest fires to financial crises.” – Charles Lane, The Washington Post.

“Ip … provides us with not just one of the more informative books on the financial crisis, but one of the more entertaining and readable ones.” – Jared Bernstein, On The Economy.

“Ip … travels far and wide to illustrate his premise in this meticulously researched book.” – Caroline Baum, Marketwatch.

“If you enjoyed Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s TheBlack Swan, or Levitt and Dubner’s Freakonomics, prepare yourself for a major holiday treat… Foolproof is cut from the same bolt of lightning. Foolproof may change the way you think about some of the most important political, economic and social problems besetting us.” – Ralph Benko,

“Strongly recommended, devoured my copy in a single sitting right away.” Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution. (One of the best books of 2015.)

“Ip, an intelligent and independent thinker, identifies a tendency to deceive ourselves into believing that we are safer than we really are.” – Arnold Kling, Library of Economics and Liberty (one of his 5 favorite books of 2015).

“[An] eye-opening book about risk-taking and crisis…. A provocative challenge to the tendency to elevate ideology over thoughtfulness.”―Kirkus Reviews

” Ip entwines economics and psychology … a thoughtful, entertaining read.” – Publishers Weekly

Additional praise: 

“In this incisive and richly reported book, Greg Ip forces us to rethink our assumptions about risk. He shows that progress might depend on less safety, not more — and that stability can often be destabilizing. FOOLPROOF is the rare book you’ll be thinking about long after you’ve turned the final page.”―Daniel H. Pink, author of Drive and To Sell Is Human

“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 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

“The safer you are, the more you are at risk; crises are born of success as much as failure. Surveying a century of struggles to fend off catastrophe, from financial panic to forest fires, Greg Ip explores these paradoxes deftly, cementing his position as a leading observer of the modern economy–and of the human condition.”―Sebastian Mallaby, author of More Money Than God

“We live, now, in a world of constant risk–financial, geopolitical, meteorological. Greg Ip has written a beautiful guide to thinking properly about the risks we face. It’s a book we need now, in a world that has become so complex that it’s outrun our human brain’s ability to make proper sense of the risks we face. But don’t read it because it’s important. Read it because it’s fun, it has good narratives, some psychology, a bit of (easy, enjoyable) maths and a lot of clear, common sense. You will feel smarter and more capable and you will have tons of stories to tell your friends.”―Adam Davidson, co-founder and co-host of Planet Money

“It has been said that the problem with making things idiot-proof is that someone will just build a better idiot. Greg Ip’s new book shows us just how that happens, from anti-lock brakes to the gold standard, to the financial crisis we are still reckoning with today. Deftly written and filled with lucid explanations of complex topics, this is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand why seemingly safe territory so often turns out to be dangerous quicksand.”―Megan McArdle, author of The Up Side of Down

“A powerful and original book on a vital subject – read it!” – Tim Harford, author of The Undercover Economist Strikes Back


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Read on for a more detailed description of the book.

Foolproof explores the human behavior behind financial crises and natural disasters. In trying to make ourselves safer, we often end up creating the conditions for catastrophe. Why? Because when we feel safer, we take more risk; and because stamping out one sort of risk will often cause a different sort to emerge, in unexpected places.

The pursuit of safety can explain the U.S. financial crisis and Europe’s sovereign debt crisis. It plays a part in natural disasters such as forest fires, Superstorm Sandy and the tsunami that knocked out Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant. It is also a surprising contributor to injuries in sports and cars. Foolproof explains why a feeling of safety makes panics, whether in finance or food, so destructive and how the insurance industry can be a source of danger, not just a solution for it.

Ip traces our determination to make our surroundings safer to the Progressive Era a century ago and the creation of such institutions as the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Forest Service. In the years that followed, Ip traces the emergence of two competing schools of thought on how to deal with risk: engineers, who use science, economics and brain power to make the world more stable and safer, and ecologists who think a constantly adapting world will undermine such efforts.

Foolproof suggests how this tension can be resolved. First, it argues against trying to eliminate all risk and danger, because even though risk taking sometimes leads to disaster, it can also do good things that more than make up for the disaster. It shows how aviation, which many people find frightening, became our safest mode of transportation. It looks to American oil companies, Dutch flood managers and Canadian bankers for practical lessons in how to foolproof ourselves.

Foolproof is deeply reported, richly illustrated through the experiences and discoveries of economists, scientists, doctors  and business leaders, and exhaustively supported with academic studies ranging from the effect of football helmets on spinal injuries to the gold standard’s contribution to the Russian Revolution.


Written by gregip

September 7, 2015 at 12:37 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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