Friday, September 24, 2010

Insurance and sharing

There are always murmurings on the right about insurance -- most recently about health insurance.

This makes a lot of sense to me, since insurance really is a kind of "socialism." It is, in some sense, a genuine sharing -- in this case of risk. In general it's not "from each according to his ability (unless there is a subsidy), but it is exactly "to each according to his need." Everyone pays the premiums -- rich or poor. No one knows for sure who will collect. You can't beat the system by working especially hard. In fact, working hard -- say through cardio-vascular exercise or by driving carefully -- will cause you most likely to lose, since you're unlikely to collect.

Yet, interestingly enough, the socialism of insurance is also a means for making money by selling the stuff. It's really wonderful. All the insurees share in the risk, yet companies with good actuaries make money no matter who collects. That's what makes it (barely) tolerable for those of the capitalist persuasion. You can see that by their animosity toward "the public option" plan, where no one makes a profit, but all risk is shared.

And that, after all, is the key to the right-wing mindset: the suspicion -- hatred in fact -- of the concept of sharing. H. L. Mencken once defined a puritan as a person with "the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy." Perhaps a right-winger is a person with the haunting fear that some people, somewhere, may be sharing something. A pitiful and primitive ideology if you ask me.

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