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Posts Tagged ‘risk’

Risk-Sharing

The furious to-do about Obamacare has obscured a basic fact about modern Americans: Most of us, certainly the middle class, are sheltered by a complex web of insurance. Some insurance coverage is privately provided, such as life, accident, fire, flood, travel, liability, burial, and consumer product insurance. And some is government-provided or -required: Social Security, Medicare, unemployment, bank deposit, car, health, mortgage, food, crop, disaster insurance, and so on. All of these, without which American middle-class life as we know it would not be recognizable, are relatively recent developments. It is not that insurance per se and even complex versions of it are new; merchants have hedged their commercial gambles for millennia. What is new in the last roughly 150 years is the extent to which average people have gotten access to financial devices which, by sharing risks, have reduced the economic uncertainties in their lives.

This development, told in part by historian Jonathan Levy in an a multiple award-winning 2012 book, Freaks of Fortune: The Emerging World of Capitalism and Risk in America, was not without political and moral controversy. Moreover, the consequences of reducing individual Americans’ insecurity have more than once introduced great national economic uncertainty.

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Who Has Your Back

Tornadoes and floods hit Oklahoma . . . . 16 banks in Florida close   . . .  Millions face extended unemployment . . .  Search on for food contamination that felled dozens . . . Workers severely injured when roof collapses . . . Venture capital firm files for bankruptcy . . . .

Q: What do all these headlines have in common, besides being tales of woe? A: That the people injured physically or economically by these woes are helped, often made financially whole. Better yet, many more people who could have been in the same scrapes – killed, injured, broke, homeless, or just recently, endangered by salmonella in eggs – are protected from those threats. By whom? By your insurer of last resort: Uncle Sam.

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