The story of America’s greatest idea: Risk

John Dickerson in Slate:

ScreenHunter_01 Apr. 20 10.45 Risk has taken a beating recently, thanks to the financial crisis. Risk is supposed to be about choice and consequence. You take a chance and you win or you lose. But then banks and insurance companies found ways to pervert this. They devised ever more esoteric ways to pass risk on to others, so there was, in fact, no risk to them at all. In this distortion, insurance techniques, created to limit risk, exposed millions to it. The laws of probability, originally devised to solve a moral dilemma—how to equitably distribute winnings in a game of chance—wound up inequitably distributing losses to people who didn't even know they were at the table. The architects of these gambles left their jobs with enormous bonuses, and companies that helped cripple the financial system were repaid by the government bailout. They took a chance, and lost—but they still won.

In this series, I seek to reclaim risk. I want to remind myself—and you—of the buoyant, thrilling side of risk, and I will do it by telling the stories of people who embrace risk and who live with the fear, exhilaration, and ambiguity it creates without shirking. People engaged in every kind of human endeavor say that taking risks is the key to fulfillment and success. It is at the heart of our biggest thrills and proudest achievements. Ask someone when she felt most alive and she'll tell you a story about a risk she took. President Barack Obama talked about this in his inaugural address. “Greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted—for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things.”

This series presents the stories of those people.

More here.