Tag Archives: Insurance

Framing the Free Market

In a 1999 essay in The Atlantic titled “The Market as God,” Harvey Cox brilliantly discusses  ways in which some Americans treat the idea of the free market as if it were a god. The problem is that, while markets certainly can be very influential, they are not gods and do not necessarily have people’s best interests at heart. In fact, they can seem heartless sometimes. But that doesn’t mean that markets are bad–just that deifying them is unwise.

A better understanding of markets came to me from an unlikely source: a book about parking. Donald Shoup’s excellent book The High Price of Free Parking argues for using market forces as tools to better manage parking.

An example is charging more for on-street parking during peak hours and charging less for parking in garages at the same time. That will encourage more drivers to park in the garage, leaving more on-street spaces available for those willing to pay extra for them. He proposes a goal of making one parking space available on each side of each block at any given time. That would allow motorists to park without having to cruise for spaces, saving time, fuel, pollution, and stress.

The details of Shoup’s proposals aside, instead of thinking of the market as god, progressives should talk about the market as tool. Therefore, the question should never be whether markets are good or bad but what markets are good for and bad at. How should we use markets, and who should benefit from them?

For example, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act attempts to use market forces to improve Americans’ access to quality health insurance. The government creates standards of quality and fairness and marketplaces for buying and selling insurance, and the insurance companies do the rest. It is an attempt to use markets to advance the health and wellbeing of Americans.

When extreme conservatives complain about government interference in the free market, progressives could reply (if they can say so truly) that government is providing the market structure that both companies and customers need so they know what behavior is and is not acceptable. This allows them to do business with confidence that they are being treated fairly and not ripped off or harmed. This confidence makes business possible. I think progressives should frame this as market-confidence building.

How do you think progressives should talk about markets?

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Framing Unemployment Insurance

In media reports that I’ve heard, defenders of unemployment insurance have emphasized the economic importance of continuing long-term unemployment insurance. While this fact matters, unemployment insurance requires defense on moral grounds also.

Here’s an attempt:

America is a nation composed not only of individuals but also of families, communities, cities, and states. Americans care about each other, and our wellbeing and suffering affect us all. Understanding this, during the Great Depression, the government wisely responded to mass unemployment, the collapse of the middle class, and rising poverty in part by establishing social insurance such Social Security and unemployment insurance.

In unemployment insurance, employers pay into state insurance trusts that pay benefits when workers lose their jobs, typically due to termination or layoff. It’s right that employers should pay the premiums because they decide who is fired and laid off and therefore are responsible for the worker’s unemployment.

Unemployed workers deserve our support not only because they need it to support their families while finding their next job but also because America is a country that values hard work and the people who do it. America is the Land of Opportunity and wants unemployment to be an opportunity for new work. We don’t accept that an employer’s decision to let someone go should mean that family should starve. We want to help make that next opportunity possible.

When Congress cancels long-term unemployment insurance, it sends the opposite message. That’s wrong.

What do you think the moral case for unemployment insurance should be?

Unemployment Insurance Recipients

With federal unemployment insurance currently cancelled for unemployed Americans, it’s important to talk about the topic carefully. As insurance, it pays benefit checks when Americans file eligible claims. Therefore, these checks are unemployment insurance benefits.

While this phrase is accurate, journalists and others sometimes abbreviate it to unemployment benefits or jobless benefits. This sounds as if the checks were a benefit of unemployment instead of a benefit of unemployment insurance.  It therefore unconsciously and misleadingly advances the conservative view that cash benefits discourage individual initiative and employment. Unemployment benefits and jobless benefits should be avoided.

The truth is that the checks are benefits of insurance for which their employers have paid taxes while the beneficiaries were employed. The amounts paid are typically far less than people earned while working but provide critical support to families in crisis. The unemployment insurance program typically also requires beneficiaries to apply for jobs every week.

I’ve also sometimes (e.g. this NPR story) heard beneficiaries of unemployment insurance called recipients. This word connotes welfare instead of insurance and should be avoided–even for those in a welfare program.

I think progressives should use the phrase unemployment insurance beneficiaries or Americans seeking to end their unemployment.

What do you think?

Another Way to Frame Gun Control

Why do we require deadly weapons to be registered? It’s the same reason that we require motor vehicles to be registered: they impose costs on society.

While most people most of the time drive safely and lawfully, motor vehicles are dangerous. They kill thousands every year. Every year, law enforcement must solve countless crimes that involve motor vehicles. We require drivers:

  • to be at least a certain age,
  • to pass an exam about the rules of the road,
  • to demonstrate skill in driving,
  • to present a drivers license and proof of liability insurance, and
  • to pay taxes to pay for the maintenance of the streets and highways on which we drive.

While most people most of the time use deadly weapons safely and lawfully, weapons injure and kill thousands accidentally or on purpose. They are involved in countless crimes that police must try to solve. Because of these costs and devastating losses, it’s completely appropriate that the authorities:

  • require registration of weapons,
  • charge fees that are commensurate with the costs imposed on society by weapons, and
  • require that the owners demonstrate knowledge of their safe use and storage.

Doing so is in everyone’s interest, and failing to do so would be irresponsible.

The only one I know of that wouldn’t see it in their interest are criminals and those few extremists that want to own weapons without any accountability to their neighbors. That’s shirking responsibility, and it’s wrong.

Therefore, I propose reframing what is now framed as gun control as registration of deadly weapons and its opponents as the irresponsible few that want to own deadly weapons without accountability.

What do you think they should be called? Does anyone know if owners of deadly weapons are required to carry liability insurance and register annually like owners of cars and trucks? If they aren’t, they should be because the danger the weapons pose persists from year to year.

Affordable Care Act

The phrase "Affordable Care Act" brings to mind money and commerce.
The phrase “Affordable Care Act” brings to mind money and commerce.

An abbreviation of the name of the new healthcare law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, this phrase defines the issue as the affordability of medical care. Use of this abbreviation has helped sow doubt about the law’s value following media reports that, while many Americans can expect lower health insurance premiums, others may see higher premiums.

Supporters should avoid calling the law by this name. Instead, when shortening the name, use the first two words, the Patient Protection Act. This directs the hearer’s attention away from money and toward the law’s moral mission: protecting Americans from abuse by health-insurance companies and from bankruptcy and other injury due to lack of adequate health insurance. This moral mission is what the law’s supporters should talk about.

I think it’s unwise to call the law Obamacare and will post about that this week.

The phrase "Patient Protection Act" brings to mind defending the vulnerable.
The phrase “Patient Protection Act” brings to mind defending the vulnerable.