The furious to-do about Obamacare has obscured a basic fact about modern Americans: most of us, certainly the middle class, are sheltered by a complex web of insurance. Some insurance coverage is privately provided, such as life, accident, fire, flood, travel, liability, burial, and consumer product insurance. And some is government-provided or -required: Social Security, Medicare, unemployment, bank deposit, car, health, mortgage, food, crop, disaster insurance, and so on. All of these, without which American middle-class life as we know it would not be recognizable, are relatively recent developments.
It is cliché now to say that we live in a “risk society.” We simultaneously celebrate “risk-takers” and blame those who undertake “risky speculations” without much pausing over the contradiction. Freaks of Fortune, by Jonathan Levy, is a history of the United States refracted through Americans’ evolving conceptions of financial risk. “Risque,” according to Levy, evolved from an arcane term-of-art in maritime insurance to the very anchor of what it meant to be free in nineteenth-century America.Risk as We Know It, by Jonathan Levy
Sometime during the 19th century it became all but impossible to imagine the modern condition without the word "risk." By 1871, Whitman was able to invest risk with great lyrical power. Capitalism—an economic system that thrives on radical uncertainty—was asserting control. Meanwhile, men had begun to insure their own lives, brokers had begun to sell mortgage-backed securities, and farmers were beginning to buy commodities-futures contracts. Uncertainties and anxieties—some old, some new—had to be managed and coped with, perhaps even capitalized upon. Risk management was born.Risk Is the Most Important Issue in American Politics
In “The Great Risk Shift,” he [Jacob Hacker] tells the story of the decline of economic security over the last 30 years. Each piece of the story — the slow death of guaranteed pensions, the erosion of health benefits, the time crunch faced by two-income families, the rise of layoffs — is familiar. But Hacker provides an overview, showing common causes and suggesting a solution that revolves around the simple idea of insurance. Just as groups of people, not individuals, bear the risks of hurricanes and car accidents, so should societies bear much of the cost of illness, old age and unexpected job loss. “Over the last generation,” he writes, “we have witnessed a massive transfer of economic risk from broad structures of insurance, including those sponsored by the corporate sector as well as by government, onto the fragile balance sheets of American families.”Live At Your Own Risk - "Yale Political Scientist Jacob Hacker says the widening gap between rich and poor is a “great risk shift” from collective institutions to individuals." His book was reviewed by Crooked Timber
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