Why do we buy insurance of any kind? Is it really for ourselves and our own benefit, or is there something else going on with insurance decisions? According to Venture Capitalist Chris Brookfield, as quoted in Dave Chase’s book The Opioid Crisis Wake-Up Call, there is something beyond our own self interest at play when we decide to buy insurance.
Brookfield is quoted as writing, “Persuading individuals to buy insurance is kind of backwards. I saw this in India all the time. Individuals do not value their own risks – their relatives and neighbors do.”
Buying insurance is actually more about our loved ones and our responsibility to our community than it is about ourselves. It is about protecting the financial standing of our relatives and those who would help us if we were down as much as it is about protecting our own financial standing. The standard story tells us that insurance shifts risk from ourselves to a group of individuals, but as Brookfield continues in the book, it really shifts risks from our immediate known allies, into a broader group of people that we don’t necessarily know.
If I don’t have health insurance or auto insurance and die in a terrible car crash, I am not the one who will bear the costs of the accident. My loved ones and other people in the community involved with the crash (other drivers or the owners of any private property that was damaged) are the ones who will face the costs. On their own it would be hard to manage the costs, but pooled together, the costs and the risk could be shared. In a situation where my death occurs, it is other people who derive the value of the insurance.
I’m sure there are some insurance products that are pretty solidly just about the individual buying the isurance, but it doesn’t seem to always be that way. Buying insurance seems to be an act of signaling, as Robin Hanson discusses in his book The Elephant in the Brain. Buying insurance isn’t all about sharing risk, it is also about showing others how much you care about them and about showing the community how responsible you are.