Insurance and the Common Good

A few weeks ago, a hail storm battered my neighborhood:

hail yard copy

VW1 copy

Within the hour after the storm, signs appeared around my neighborhood for miles advertising hail damage repair for cars and homes.

And while I have two badly damaged cars, my home suffered only a few dings to the siding and some ripped window screens (none of which will result in my filing insurance claims). But the insurance vultures continue to circle my house, leaving cards and flyers along with coming to my door and soliciting their services.

On more than one occasion, as well, friends have stated directly to me that they regret the storm missed their homes because they need new shingles.

This micro-disaster capitalism occurring in my neighborhood is a stark example of the feeding frenzy around the promise of a large and robust pool of insurance money there for the taking. Yes, many of us actually did sustain property loss in the hail storm, but the swarm of insurance adjusters, paintless dent repair businesses, and roofing contractors is also basking in the glow of work and profit that will come from wink-wink, nudge-nudge property loss.

Something important about this phenomenon is the outright glee of everyone involved after a natural disaster, one that spawns commerce of course. The glee is over the veneer of new stuff, work opportunities, and making money.

I think we should contrast this glee over micro-disaster capitalism with the popular and persistent antagonism in the U.S. about publicly funded institutions and programs. And in that comparison, let’s also consider just what insurance is: The pooling of funds by a collective of people for the occasional benefit of a few (and those few can and do benefit even when the loss is their fault).

Public institutions and public policy are pooling resources for the good of a few that in fact benefits everyone. I have made this case about taking steps to treat each children as our child and the converse of making narrow decisions for “my” child actually hurts that child.

That the public appears eager to participate in the micro-disaster capitalism of the  insurance game (and even to break through certain ethical boundaries) but unwilling to embrace the actual individual and social advantages of public funding is a disturbing message about allegiances: As long as the process appears bound to material gain, increased “work,” and “making money,” that veneer of capitalism makes the essential nature of insurance (pooled resources for the benefit of the few) somehow tolerable.

The real grounding of the American character may well be, not democracy, not capitalism even, but disaster capitalism—the generating of market dynamics, by any means necessary and as the ends themselves.

In 2014, the greatest of fortunes, it seems, is to hit the insurance jackpot that appears to bring you the new roof you have been hoping you could attain. (Who cares that 22+% of children in the U.S. live in poverty—especially if they have a new roof?)

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One thought on “Insurance and the Common Good

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