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Acts of God and Man: Ruminations on Risk and Insurance

by Michael R. Powers

Published by Columbia Business School Publishing


Much has been written about the ups and downs of financial markets, from the lure of prosperity to the despair of crisis. However, there exists a more fundamental and pernicious source of uncertainty in today's world: the traditional "insurance" risks of earthquakes, storms, terrorist attacks, and other disasters. Insightfully exploring these "acts of God and man," Michael R. Powers guides readers through the methods available for identifying and measuring such risks, financing their consequences, and forecasting their future behavior within the limits of science.

A distinctive characteristic of earthquakes, hurricanes, bombings, and other insurĀ­ ance risks is that they impact the values of stocks, bonds, commodities, and other human-made financial products, while themselves remaining largely unaffected by or "aloof" from the behavior of markets. Quantifying such risks given limited data is tricky yet crucial for achieving the financing objectives of insurance. Powers begins with an analysis of how risk impacts our lives, health, and possessions, and then introduces the statistical techniques necessary for analyzing these uncertainties. He then considers the experience of risk from the perspectives of both policyholders and insurance companies and compares their respective responses.

The risks inherent in the private insurance industry lead naturally to discussions of government's role as both market regulator and potential "insurer of last resort." Powers concludes with an interdisciplinary investigation into the nature of uncertainty, incorporating ideas from physics, philosophy, and game theory to assess science's limitations in predicting the ramifications of risk.


pub date: 2011-12-30 | Hardcover | 9780231153669