Columnists > Voices

Risky business

Livelihood insurance and other charms for the safe and secure life

Issue: "Supreme Court fight," July 23, 2005

Today's America is all about avoiding risk. There are ponds we skated on and hills we sledded down and poles we shimmied up when we were kids that kids aren't allowed to use anymore. The food handler's course I just took for recertification at the café was pitched with a subtle difference from the one I took in 2000: Last time we studied food safety; this time we studied smart record-keeping (PODs) to ward off potential lawsuits.

I got a nice letter from my mortgage company the other day. They want to help me avoid unnecessary risk, so they are happy to offer me, for a small extra fee, "Disaster Mortgage Protection" (DMP), to cover floods, hurricanes, fires, tornadoes, earthquakes, and other things I thought were already covered in my homeowners policy.

Speaking of home-owning, I read that "risks for real estate agents and brokers can be reduced greatly if we can shift them to someone else" (Marcie Roggow, Realtor and president of Creative Learning Concepts in Sioux Falls, Iowa). As house inspections become increasingly obligatory, inspectors are chafing under the growing responsibility and are understandably shifting it onto others. Gone are the days when you could get a straight answer about the presence of mold in your dream house. The smart inspector will say "I don't know" and suggest a professional. Also, be advised that your real estate agent has run you through a risk-scoring system called CLUE (Comprehensive Loss Writing Exchange) to see if you are the type of person who is likely to file a claim.

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Which reminds me of how car insurance companies assess their risk of taking you on. You thought they threw into the hopper only your accident history, traffic tickets, and number of years behind the wheel. Too risky. They find out if you are wont to make late payments on bills, or max out your credit cards. The companies don't know why "credit scoring" works, but they say it does.

The Philadelphia Eagles built a new football stadium in 2001. They hired a big stadium-development company, whose role in the project, as stated frankly by the team's lawyer, was to protect the owners from risk and "shift risk down the chain as far as possible." Three years later, many subcontractors have yet to be paid-but the owners' backsides are covered.

Yale economist Robert J. Shiller has a book titled The New Financial Order: Risk in the 21st Century (he defines finance as "the management of risk") that presents "six fundamental ideas for a new risk management infrastructure." In the pipeline: "livelihood insurance," and "home equity insurance," which goes beyond fires and floods to unforeseen dips in the equity in your house from whatever economic cause.

We manage risk with Social Security, 401Ks, gated communities, burglar alarms, car alarms, life and malpractice insurance, insurance for vacations (against trip cancellation, interruption or delay, medical emergencies, lost or stolen baggage, missed connections), and prenuptial pacts.

The tony kindergarten you enroll little Johnny in as soon as you find a blue line in the result window of your home pregnancy kit? That will give him an early edge in the risk game. Psychologist Dr. Dan Gottlieb says, "Security has become the holy grail of our times."

But in a scene from the TV movie Band of Brothers is this pep talk from an officer to one of his men who confessed to being paralyzed with fear in the D-Day invasion: "You know why you hid? You were scared. You hid in that ditch because you think there's still hope. But the only hope you have is to accept the fact that you're already dead. And the sooner you accept that the sooner you'll be able to function as a soldier's supposed to function."

Wisdom from the mouths of soldiers. Nobody gets out of this alive. "You are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes" (James 4:14). Hate your own life (Luke 14:26). Don't try to save it (Matthew 16:25). Count it all loss (Philippians 3:7-8). Cast your bread on the waters (Ecclesiastes 11:1). Let wisdom cost you all you have (Proverbs 4:7). Be righteously reckless (Psalm 37:26). Risk it all (Matthew 16:26).

And follow the Lamb wherever He goes (Revelation 14:4).

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.


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