Ascent Of Money

Risky Business

Season 1, Episode 3 of 4

The ability to calculate risk has led to the creation of enormous wealth, or when calculated incorrectly, catastrophic economic fallout. In New Orleans, Ferguson witnesses the destruction still on display from Hurricane Katrina because insurance companies were unable to cover claims to rebuild homes; the region has been deemed uninsurable ever since. The origin of the insurance industry brings Ferguson to Scotland, where, in 1744, two ministers devised calculations that would predict the risk of a person's becoming sick or dying and established a fund that would support families in such instances, giving birth to the modern insurance industry. By the mid 20th century, in order to cope with natural and manmade disasters that had exhausted private insurance, Japan eliminated risk by creating a welfare state in which the government protected every citizen from any kind of casualty. The system remained viable for decades, but today is on the verge of collapse. In the mid 1970s, Chile followed the teachings of economist Milton Friedman to become the first of many nations to dismantle its welfare state and reassume risk to create growth. Another tool of wealth creation based on risk assessment - hedging on derivatives - emerged from Chicago beginning in 1874 and has led to the creation of great fortunes by financers such as George Soros and to the downfall of firms like AIG.

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