Insurance and Risk Management

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 2nd, 2012

Economics 101

By collecting a Small Fee from Many Policy Holders Insurance Companies can Afford to Pay for the Large Losses of a Few

Insurance has one purpose.  To protect wealth.  People work hard accruing wealth.  Buying a house.  Cars.  College fund for the kids.  Retirement 401(k)s and IRAs.  It takes a long time to earn the money that lets us have these things.  And they take a constant stream of payments to sustain them.  And we are always at risk of losing them.  Something can interrupt that stream of payments to sustain them.  An accident or illness that prevents us from working.  Burying us in a stack of unexpected bills.  A tree could fall onto the house during a bad storm.  You could total your car while driving to work in a thick fog.  A wife could lose her husband leaving her to raise their children on her own.

These are very real risks that we must manage.  Because we need to protect our wealth.  We buy house and car insurance so we can keep or replace our houses and cars because we can’t afford to buy new ones should we lose the old ones.  We buy life insurance to provide for our families should we die.  We buy health insurance so an accident or disease doesn’t wipe out our savings, college fund and retirement investments.  Because we do do these things we can manage the risks in life.  So that something unexpected and incredibly expensive doesn’t take everything away that we worked so hard for.

Managing our risks allows us to live our lives.  To plan for the future.  A future that has a price tag.  A future that takes a lifetime of accumulating wealth to pay for.  And to protect the wealth that provides for our families and our retirements we buy insurance.  Groups of people join together and pay a small fee for an insurance policy that will protect a very large amount of wealth.  So if we have an unexpected and very expensive event in our lives our insurance will protect our wealth by paying for our losses.  By collecting a small fee from hundreds of thousands of policy holders insurance companies can afford to pay for the large losses of a few.  Allowing life to go on.  As best as it can following these  unexpected events.  So even in the worst of events families can keep their homes.  Keep their kids in their schools.  Protect their kids’ future by keeping their college fund intact.  Replace their property.  Allowing life to go on as close to what it was before the event.  All thanks to insurance.

Bad Insurance Risks have an Advantage over Insurance Companies due to Asymmetric Information and Adverse Selection

Insurance companies provide this valuable service.  But it isn’t easy.  Because insurance isn’t a science.  But statistical analysis.  And risk analysis.  Which is how they determine the cost of their insurance policies.  A critical part for the survival of insurance companies.  So they can continue to provide this valuable service.

Insurance companies are at a disadvantage because of asymmetric information.  Meaning their customers know more about how great a risk they are than the insurance company.  For example, reckless drivers don’t offer that information when someone is quoting a policy for them.  For they want a low price.  Not a high price that reckless drivers normally get charged.  This is a problem mostly with young drivers.  Older drivers have a driving record.  If it’s a safe record they get a low quote.  If the record includes many points and at-fault accidents they will get a high quote.  Young drivers, though, don’t have a driving record yet.  This is where the statistical analysis comes in.  On average young men drive more recklessly than young women.  Based on the statistical evidence.  So they charge young men higher rates than they charge young women.  Problem solved.  But this causes another problem.

Not all young women are good drivers.  But by charging young women lower rates some bad women drivers are getting a rate lower than their risk warrants.  Which means insurance companies will lose money insuring these drivers at rates below their risk level.  In fact, this will attract more high-risk drivers.  Thus increasing an insurance company’s risk exposure.  And as they pay out claims that exceed the premiums they collect they have to raise insurance rates for all women drivers.  Thus discouraging some good drivers from buying insurance because of the higher premiums.  Thus increasing the percentage of high-risk drivers.  Which forces the insurance companies to raise their premiums again to cover these higher losses.  We call this problem adverse selection.  Where pricing plans to manage risk ends up increasing risk.  One way around this is by group coverage.  Like in health insurance.  Where everyone at a company buys insurance in exchange for a lower group rate.  Including the high-risk people.  And the low-risk people.  Thus avoiding adverse selection.

Economic Growth is the Creation of Wealth and our Insurance Protects that Wealth

When is insurance not insurance?  When it is health insurance.  At least as it is today.  It still acts like insurance for the unexpected and catastrophic accident or illness.  But it is anything but insurance for most everything else.  The latest example in the media these days being birth control.  Which is neither an unexpected nor a catastrophic expense.  For there are few expenses that are more expected and more affordable than birth control.  Unlike, say, chemotherapy.  Or trauma care in the emergency room.  Both of which are unexpected.  And very, very expensive.

When insurance pays for everything for everybody it is no longer managing risk.  Insurance companies are no longer collecting a small fee from all policy holders to pay for the large losses of a few.  Instead they’re collecting a large fee from everyone to pay for the costs of everyone.  Or more precisely, they’re collecting a large fee from the employers who provide health insurance to their employees.  So the recipients of all those free health care goodies don’t see their costs.  Which is how they’ve been able to include everything but the kitchen sink in today’s health care insurance policies.  Causing the price of health insurance to soar.  Hurting families.  Businesses.  And the economy as a whole.

A healthy economy allocates scarce resources to where we use them most efficiently.  When we do we create the most goods possible from these scarce resources.  Making society as a whole better off.  By improving the standard of living for society as a whole.  But by turning health insurance into a welfare program it increases the cost of doing business.  Which puts downward pressures on wages.  Preventing real wages from keeping pace with the rise in consumer prices.  Leaving workers with less disposable income.  Which translates into weak economic growth.  And a stagnant or declining standard of living.

Economic growth is the creation of wealth.  And our insurance protects that wealth.  When we convert that insurance into welfare, though, we put our wealth at risk.  By putting greater pressures on that stream of payments to sustain our wealth.  Our future plans.  And our families.

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Capitalism vs. Communism, Socialism, Occupy Wall Street and President Obama

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 14th, 2011

The Corporation was Created to Raise Capital and Manage Risk so they can Build the Stuff we Want

No wonder the Occupy Wall Street people have their heads filled with nonsense.  Here’s an Ivy League publication that doesn’t even understand what a stakeholder in a corporation is.  They have a stake, i.e., a share.  They own stock.  They’ve risked their capital.  And if you don’t risk capital, then you’re just not a stakeholder (see Occupy Wall Street: What Businesses Need to Know by Hari Bapuji and Suhaib Riaz posted 10/14/2011 on the Harvard Business Review).

The demonstrators are asserting that they are stakeholders in American business, and they’re correct — they are stakeholders, as consumers, as employees, and as citizens affected by the financial system in general.

No they’re not.  Unless they bought stock in these corporations.  Which I doubt, because people typically don’t protest against companies they invest in.  Unless they’re idiots.

The corporation was created to raise large amounts of capital.  And manage risk.  By selling stocks to shareholders.  So they can raise the money to build the stuff we want.  Things that hopefully would make a profit one day.  A profit that the shareholders would share in.  As they are the ones taking the BIGGEST risk.  The corporate officers of these corporations have a fiduciary responsibility with the shareholders.  To make a profit.  It’s their company.  They paid for it.  And these shareholders owe nothing to that mob on Wall Street.  Unless any of them own stock.

You’d think those writing for a business school would understand basic business 101.

Businesses should look at whether existing models of compensation are contributing to this inequality. They need to find ways to reward performance without increasing pay disparities. Developing new models of compensation and governance is not easy and can only be possible through a long-term and sincere engagement with a wide set of stakeholders, such as regulators, academics, and representatives of workers.

They want to do away with merit.  And introduce something more akin to communism.  Where everyone is equal.  No matter the value of their work.  People have tried this.  In North KoreaCuba.  And the former Soviet Union.  Note the word ‘former’ in that last one.  There’s a reason why it’s former.  No one wanted to do the harder jobs if they didn’t get paid any more for the additional brain power or risk.  And those stuck carrying the weight of their comrades?  They just didn’t bust their ass in the process.  And that’s why the Soviet Union is a ‘former’ union.

But this is what the Occupy Wall Street people want.  Force people to do those harder jobs.  But pay these wealth creators no more than them.  Even if they only work at a Starbucks.  Or collect government assistance.

The Egalitarian Polices of the Great Society Destroyed the Economy in the Seventies

So an Ivy League publication doesn’t understand business.  But you know who does?  Al Jazeera.  Their conclusions are all wrong but at least they get a lot of stuff right along the way (see The instability of inequality by Nouriel Roubini posted 10/14/2011 on Al Jazeera).

While these protests have no unified theme, they express in different ways the serious concerns of the world’s working and middle classes about their prospects in the face of the growing concentration of power among economic, financial, and political elites. The causes of their concern are clear enough: high unemployment and underemployment in advanced and emerging economies; inadequate skills and education for young people and workers to compete in a globalised world; resentment against corruption, including legalised forms like lobbying; and a sharp rise in income and wealth inequality in advanced and fast-growing emerging-market economies.

Of course, the malaise that so many people feel cannot be reduced to one factor. For example, the rise in inequality has many causes: the addition of 2.3 billion Chinese and Indians to the global labour force, which is reducing the jobs and wages of unskilled blue-collar and off-shorable white-collar workers in advanced economies; skill-biased technological change; winner-take-all effects; early emergence of income and wealth disparities in rapidly growing, previously low-income economies; and less progressive taxation.

American industry is uncompetitive.  That appears to be the problem.  That’s why there are fewer jobs.  So people who earn income via their labor are being priced out of the market by their generous pay and benefit packages.  But people who earn their income via capital always have a place to invest capital.  Capital is capital.  It is always competitive.  That’s why more wealth is accumulating to the rich.  Because they haven’t killed their golden goose.  Like unions have killed unskilled American manufacturing.

This doesn’t explain those kids on Wall Street, though.  The ones with college degrees.  Their problem is their degrees.  Many of them are worthless.  Probably a lot of English majors out there.  Or have degrees in sociology.  Anthropology.  Philosophy.  Women studies.  Etc.  But there just aren’t a lot of stores out there selling this stuff.

The increase in private- and public-sector leverage and the related asset and credit bubbles are partly the result of inequality. Mediocre income growth for everyone but the rich in the last few decades opened a gap between incomes and spending aspirations. In Anglo-Saxon countries, the response was to democratise credit – via financial liberalisation – thereby fuelling a rise in private debt as households borrowed to make up the difference. In Europe, the gap was filled by public services – free education, health care, etc. – that were not fully financed by taxes, fuelling public deficits and debt. In both cases, debt levels eventually became unsustainable.

Too much debt is never a good thing.  But those bubbles weren’t the result of inequality.  They were the result of trying to make everyone equal.  Extending credit to the credit unworthyPutting people into houses who had no business owning a house.  That was the fault of irresponsible government policy.  Not inequality.  Just like the free education, health care, etc.  We didn’t have these problems when those things weren’t free.  And when only people who could qualify for a mortgage were getting mortgages.

The problem is not new. Karl Marx oversold socialism, but he was right in claiming that globalisation, unfettered financial capitalism, and redistribution of income and wealth from labour to capital could lead capitalism to self-destruct. As he argued, unregulated capitalism can lead to regular bouts of over-capacity, under-consumption, and the recurrence of destructive financial crises, fuelled by credit bubbles and asset-price booms and busts.

Karl Marx was wrong.  At least, he hasn’t been proven right yet.  And many have tried.  The Soviets.  The Chinese.  The North Koreans.  The Cubans.  Marxism has been an abject failure.  And those busts were made worse by monetary policy trying to eliminate them.  If credit wasn’t so cheap and mortgage standards weren’t so low there would have been no housing bubble.  It was government policy that encouraged people to accumulate debt.  Not inequality.  Government is just bad at running things.  Which is why Marxism has been an abject failure.

Thus, the rise of the social-welfare state was a response (often of market-oriented liberal democracies) to the threat of popular revolutions, socialism, and communism as the frequency and severity of economic and financial crises increased. Three decades of relative social and economic stability then ensued, from the late 1940’s until the mid-1970’s, a period when inequality fell sharply and median incomes grew rapidly.

Some of the lessons about the need for prudential regulation of the financial system were lost in the Reagan-Thatcher era, when the appetite for massive deregulation was created in part by the flaws in Europe’s social-welfare model. Those flaws were reflected in yawning fiscal deficits, regulatory overkill, and a lack of economic dynamism that led to sclerotic growth then and the eurozone’s sovereign-debt crisis now.

Government spending exploded during the Sixties.  They printed so much money in the Seventies to pay for the obligations of the Sixties that Nixon decoupled the dollar from gold.  So he could print more money.  Giving us record high interest rates.  And record high inflation.  Weak GDP.  And high unemployment.  This was all because of the egalitarian polices of the Great Society.  They destroyed the economy in the Seventies.  Reagan and Thatcher brought back prosperity.  By stopping the insanity.  They cut taxes.  Cut regulation.  And the economy took off.  It’s the reversal of the Reagan-Thatcher policies that are returning the economy to the malaise of the Seventies.  Both in the UK.  And the USA.

In the Soviet Union all of the Good Stuff came from the Decadent, Capitalist West via the Black Market

But this socialist/communist claptrap is what they’re teaching in American universities.  These protestors don’t understand the role of capital in the modern economy.  The entrepreneurial spirit.  Risk management.  They don’t understand anything other than that they weren’t born into privilege.  And this just pisses them off (see OWS’ Program? Distract From Dems’ Failures by Charles Krauthammer posted 10/14/2011 on Investors.com).

To the villainy-of-the-rich theme emanating from Washington, a child is born: Occupy Wall Street. Starbucks-sipping, Levi’s-clad, iPhone-clutching protesters denounce corporate America even as they weep for Steve Jobs, corporate titan, billionaire eight times over.

These indignant indolents saddled with their $50,000 student loans and English degrees have decided that their lack of gainful employment is rooted in the malice of the millionaires on whose homes they are now marching — to the applause of Democrats suffering acute Tea Party envy and now salivating at the energy these big-government anarchists will presumably give their cause.

Except that the real Tea Party actually had a program — less government, less regulation, less taxation, less debt.

What’s the Occupy Wall Street program? Eat the rich. Then? Haven’t gotten that far. No postprandial plans.

It’s ironic that that they hate corporate America but love to indulge in their products.

During the Cold War.  When there was full employment behind the Iron Curtain.  In the tractor factories.  People stood in line all day to buy soap and toilet paper at reasonable prices.  But they bought Levi’s on the black market.  And anything else they wanted that wasn’t dreary and drab.  Or scratchy and caustic.  Whatever the price.  Why?  Because all of the good stuff came from the decadent, capitalist West.

These protestors need to read a little history of what it was like when there was true egalitarianism.  It sucked.  That’s why Soviets defected to the U.S.  And Americans didn’t defect to the U.S.S.R.  Because capitalism was better.  People lived better under capitalism than they did under communism.

The President of the United States should not use the Risk of Civil War as a Reelection Strategy

As Krauthammer says in his column, this Occupy Wall Street movement has political motives.  Obama is following in the shoes of Jimmy Carter.  The economy is in the toilet.  His policies have all failed.  And he has no chance of reelection based on his record.  So he is using the class warfare card.  Which is irresponsible.  And dangerous.

Obama is opening a Pandora’s box. Popular resentment, easily stoked, is less easily controlled, especially when the basest of instincts are granted legitimacy by the nation’s leader.

Mobs are easy to create.  But they take on a life of their own.  Are dangerous.  And unpredictable.  The president of the United States should not use the risk of civil war as a reelection strategy.  Because it’s not exactly constitutional.  Or in keeping with the oath of office he swore.

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