Chief Economics Commentator, Wall Street Journal
Combined Honours, Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Journalism (’89)
For the first 15 years of his journalism career, Greg Ip was mostly writing about the success of the North American economy: low inflation, falling unemployment, lots of people buying new homes. In fact, it seemed the U.S. Federal Reserve had finally created a crisis-proof, recession-proof economy…until 2008.
“That was our blind spot,” says Mr. Ip. “The stable economy encouraged people to take on a lot of risk and it encouraged the banks to allow risk to migrate to hidden places, such as mortgage-backed securities. We allowed imbalances to develop because we assumed the risk had been take care of.”
As an award-winning economics journalist for the Wall Street Journal and the author of Foolproof: Why Safety Can Be Dangerous and How Danger Makes Us Safe, published by Little, Brown and Company, Mr. Ip has built his career on the knowledge he gained while pursuing a double major in journalism and economics at Carleton.
“Economics has been part of what I’ve written every day since I graduated from Carleton,” says Mr. Ip, whose book was named one of the best books of 2015 by The Financial Times. “I felt well-equipped with a really good basic tool kit in both fields. I can solve economic problems and write articles on technical, abstruse topics that many people want explained.”
In Foolproof, Mr. Ip demonstrates several ways in which we take on greater risks due to our assumption of safety. For instance, he found there are fewer driving fatalities on snowy days—more accidents, but fewer deaths because when people see snow, they slow down. He also draws on economic theory to explore the phenomenon and effects of fire suppression in the American West. (Conclusion: it doesn’t work.)
Mr. Ip credits his Carleton education with preparing him for a career that has included eleven years at the Wall Street Journal and six years at The Economist magazine: “They covered the basics very thoroughly: Micro-economics, macro-economics, international economics and statistics were all drilled into me,” he recalls. “It’s been very useful over the past few years.”
From a journalism perspective, Mr. Ip says he learned invaluable skills there, as well: “What I tell young reporters is, don’t be afraid of looking stupid. Ask a lot of questions. And there’s a high return on investment when you treat everybody well. They can make or break your day or your story.”
In 1987-88, Mr. Ip was the editor of The Charlatan, Carleton’s student newspaper. Today, he says he feels “incredibly lucky” to be writing on a subject that he first learned at Carleton and that continues to fascinate him.