Sunday, July 7, 2013

When Curmie and the Insurance Companies Agree...

Curmie is a great believer in expertise. That doesn’t mean that those who lack it should automatically and uncritically submit to authority, but given a choice, and the proverbial all other things being equal, I’ll trust my mechanic to fix my car and my doctor to explain that pain in my chest. [Curmie doesn’t really have a pain in his chest. That would imply he has a heart.]

I’ve been talking about this phenomenon for a long time, e.g., this commentary on the Palin candidacy in ‘08:
Nor do I see the advantage to having someone “like me” in positions of responsibility: I don't want that in my plumber, my arborist, or my dental hygienist: why should I want it in a Vice President? Worse yet, why should I be interested in someone less knowledgeable about the issues than I am? If I'm better with an axe than anyone I could hire would be, I'll chop my own damned firewood.
More recently, I differentiated between two definitions of “authority,” suggesting that deference to a skill-set makes sense, but bowing to power doesn’t:
If I were on the [Texas] Board [of Education], I’d yield to child development experts on when certain ideas should best be introduced; I’d yield to historians and other social scientists on who’s more important than whom and what’s more important than what; I’d yield to elementary and high school teachers on what works in their classrooms. To the right-wing indoctrinators who, alas, comprise the majority of the TBOE, however, I’d yield on not one damned thing. Which, my friends, is why I have no future in politics.
One incident I didn’t write about was shortly after one of those innumerable times (can’t remember which one) when the Fox/GOP mouthpieces bellowed yet again that some action by the Obama administration would destroy the American corporation. You know, all that Kenyan Marxist Muslim crap. The same day, I received e-mails from a brokerage and a mutual fund company—you know, people whose job it is to make money for their clients (and who know they’ll be out of work if they don’t)—talking about what great new opportunities the new policy presented. Turns out, they were right. The Dow is up over 90% since President Obama took office; the Nasdaq is up over 141%; the Standard & Poor’s index is up just under 103%. Worst damned socialist ever. But that’s not what this piece is about.

What this is about is a recent story in USA Today by Victor Epstein of the Des Moines Register: it turns out that the people whose job it is to determine risks and attempt to make money by predicting that risk accurately—insurance companies—are refusing to renew the policies of Kansas schools which allow teachers and custodians to carry firearms under a new state law that the escapees from the lunatic asylum state legislature passed last winter, ostensibly to make schools “safer.” The new policy went into effect last week.
It's not a political decision, but a financial one based on the riskier climate it estimates would be created, the insurer said.

“We've been writing school business for almost 40 years, and one of the underwriting guidelines we follow for schools is that any on-site armed security should be provided by uniformed, qualified law enforcement officers,” said Mick Lovell, EMC's vice president for business development. “Our guidelines have not recently changed.”
EMC insures between 85 and 90% of Kansas schools; two other companies, Continental Western Group and Wright Specialty Insurance, have taken similar stances.

Bob Skow, the chief executive officer of the Independent Insurance Agents of Iowa, said, “It's one thing to have a trained peace officer with a gun in school; it's a completely different situation when you have a custodian or a teacher with a gun. That changes the risk of insuring a school and magnifies it considerably.” Yes, “Magnifies it considerably.”

What this means, in simple terms, is that companies whose financial stability depends on an accurate assessment of risk are overwhelmingly of the opinion that arming teachers increases the risk of casualties in the school environment. If there’s one industry that isn’t going to be accused of abandoning the profit motive, the insurance business would have to be it. If the professional assessors at EMC and other companies thought they could make money by insuring schools under the new statute, you can bet they’d do so. But they think the new policy so significantly increases risk that even raising premiums isn’t enough.

Of course, the NRA, whose smirking and stolid physiognomy can be readily perceived, only partially hidden by the shadows surrounding this legislation, has never paid any attention to reality, but this ought to at least dampen their Wild West-style rhetoric about how arming everybody is somehow going to make us safer. They won’t, of course: they’ll blat all the louder. In the unlikely event that they present any actual evidence to support their claims, I’ll listen. But I strongly suspect I won’t have to worry about making good on that promise.

Finally (almost), we turn to one Forrest Knox, the state senator who sponsored the bill in question. “I’m not an insurance expert, but it's hard for me to believe that if schools and other public buildings allow law-abiding citizens to carry that that increases risk—it’s news to me.” No, sir, you’re not an expert—you don’t have to tell us that; as I tell students all the time, I don’t care what you believe—tell me what you think; and if it’s really “news to [you]” that the evidence doesn’t actually support your position, then you have raised ignorance to an art form. Either that, or you’re a flat-out liar. Probably both.

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