Academic journal article ABA Banking Journal

Risky Business

Academic journal article ABA Banking Journal

Risky Business

Article excerpt

GREG IP, FOOLPROOF: Why Safety Can Be Dangerous and How Danger Makes Us Safe


Do fear and safety go hand in hand?

Consider air travel. An estimated one in 15 Americans has a crippling fear of flying, and a quarter of the U.S. population reports being nervous about flight.

Of course, aviation is just about the safest mode of travel in the world. The average American is 1,330 times as likely to die in a car wreck as in a plane crash. But all the statistics in the world can't dislodge the deep anxieties many feel about flight. In Greg Ip's widely covered new book, Foolproof: Why Safety Can Be Dangerous and How Danger Makes Us Safe, the Wall Street Journal economics columnist explores why that sense of risk heightens the safety of air travel.

Because of the high profile nature of crashes (which Is due in large part to their rarity), all parties in the aviation sector have strong incentives to improve safety continuously. Ip quotes organizational behavior researchers who describe aviation favorably, as having a "preoccupation with failure" in which participants are "being a little bit scared all the time." From pilots to mechanics to air traffic controllers, everybody involved in moving passengers and cargo by air works with the whiff of potential catastrophe under their noses--achieving a supremely safe track record.

Ip contrasts the safety that results from heightened fear to other areas where safety innovations have paradoxically increased risk-taking: antilock brakes, padded football helmets, wildfire prevention, flood management and financial crises. "Fear serves a purpose: it keeps us out of trouble," he writes. "On the other hand, it's not much fun: a life lived in fear is also a life deprived of adventure, exploration and growth."

Ip's goal, then, is to identify the right balance for foolproof systems--those that preserve just enough risk to keep people on edge without allowing fear to inhibit progress. …

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