August 13, 2008
by: jovial_cynic

image: Seattle Bridge Traffic (cc) DelScorchoSauce

I've got an idea brewing in my head. I'm not sure how it all plays out yet, but I wanted to post it to see what kind of reaction I got out of it.

I've got several broad sweeping philosophies about life, none of which are meant to be set in concrete, but rather serve to provide some framework for how I handle general decisions in my life. Some of these philosophies emerge out of a pattern of my behavior; that is, I discover that the reason for my actions is because of this underlying way of viewing the world -- I simply hadn't put words to the philosophy yet. In other cases, I stumble upon a new philosophy and begin to change my behavior to align with that new way of thinking, just to flesh it out and see how it works.

I recently encountered a philosophy on responsibility. Not in the "how to be a responsible person" sort of way, but rather the "how should we view the things over which we are responsible" idea. A co-worker and I chatted a bit over the issue of responsibility as it relates to private transportation, and we noted that the act of driving puts us in a situation where we are responsible for something that can cause much more damage than we are capable of repairing. A collision can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and people can die. In 2006 alone, there were 38,588 fatal car crashes. That's rather mind-boggling.

But we don't think about this. As a society, we are comfortable paying insurance companies a premium to take on that responsibility so that we can continue our lifestyle without worrying about the consequences. We simply pass the burden.

While driving with auto insurance is viewed as the "responsible" thing to do, I wonder if it does, in fact, make us less responsible people. A less responsible society. By engaging in risky activity and ignoring the potential consequences (because we know someone else will clean the mess), we behave like people in the 18-22 age bracket that think that they are responsible, but they know that they can always call their parents to bail them out of debt or jail or whatever other trouble they've encountered. This isn't being responsible. This is letting others be responsible for our actions. I can't help but feel that if people were personally liable for any damages they caused while driving, people would drive quite differently. Or not at all.

And I wonder what else would be impacted if people embraced a personal-responsibility philosophy? I don't know how far it could reach... but I do know that if people only engaged in activity that they could personally afford to cover, debt simply wouldn't exist. Would a different world that would be.


The Conservative Manifesto said:
I think I could cozy up to the idea of insurance being optional. If one chooses to have it, so be it. If one chooses to not pay monthly, but rather pay all costs in the event of an accident, so be it.

Of course the situation gets sticky when one causes an accident and doesn't have the funds to pay for repairs/hospital bills.

Speaking of medical bills, I wonder how this philosophy spills over into the realm of universal health insurance.

But as an over-arching philosophy, (insert conservative talking point in 3, 2, 1...) I'm all for more emphasis being placed on personal responsibility.

August 13, 2008

jovial_cynic said:
I don't think universal health care applies in this context, since there's no liability implied with that kind of insurance. Same with life insurance.

There's a distinction between liability insurance (damage you cause) and property insurance (damage caused outside of your control); I think that insurance over property or life makes good sense, because it doesn't cover damage caused by you; it doesn't change your level of responsibility. It simply protects you in the event another party is unable to pay for damages.

August 13, 2008

Luke said:
I think you're right Josh. We know that someone is going to bail us out so maybe we don't drive as cautious as we would otherwise.

Of course I know that the people who don't carry insurance are seldom people who are able or even would pay for the mistake they cause. They don't even really care that they're getting a ticket. Just generally irresponsible people from my experience (given their typical criminal records and whatnot).

In this culture insurance is reponsible even though philosophically I think you are correct here.

August 13, 2008

jovial_cynic said:
Luke - and when you consider that you can purchase "uninsured motorist protection" on your auto policy to protect you against people who won't even be responsible enough to get insurance, it compounds the issue of responsibility even more. It's crazy.
August 13, 2008

Paul said:
I agree with the premise...however, we do pay (in terms of auto insurance) on how "responsible" we are. Most folks in the middle class pay according to their current and past levels of responsibility. As a responsible adult, I drive safely because I know if I don't, my premiums go from say $100 to possibly $200 a month. As a middle class wage earner thats a steep increase and enough incentive for me to remain a safe and responsible driver. Kids however, regardless of how much their paying will tend to be less responsible because Mommy and Daddy may bail them out regardless. As a collective whole we pass the burden to large insurance companies but on a monthly basis they keep us acutely aware of how much burden we individually bear as well.
August 16, 2008

Paul said:
That being said, I am sure if I was held individually responsible for the liability aspect of my auto insurance policy I would drive significantly less and much safer. However, there is a sub-set of society that doesn't care today and wouldn't care if they were held responsible themselves. Im my opinion these folks while relatively small in numbers,would criple society and hence the reason insurance as it is today is a good concept.
August 16, 2008

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