Incentives from the readings in What Money Cannot Buy
It is critical that you are able to make and support cogent written arguments in your professional career. This assignment will help you do that, and it will allow you to reflect on some of the important concepts from this week.
Consider the idea of incentives from the readings in What Money Can’t Buy that we have explored this week. How does this idea intersect with ethics? For this assignment, you’ll be reflecting on this by writing a paper that answers one (and only one) of the following question:
From a moral point of view, can financial incentives for sterilization be justified? If’ yes, how? If no, why? Include reflection of any competing values you see (such as the need to limit the earth’s population in contrast to the need to respect individual liberty and choice).
Dead peasants insurance” is a term that sounds as if it comes straight out of Monty Python. If only that were true. Here’s an example of what it means: in 1999, Michael Rice, a 48-year-old employee of the supermarket firm Walmart, collapsed while helping a customer carry a television to her car. He died a week later, and an insurance company paid out $300,000 for the loss of his life.
So far, a sad but not unusual story; the twist was in the identity of the people who benefited from the insurance. It wasn’t Rice’s family, who didn’t get a penny, but Walmart. In a subsequent lawsuit, it turned out that Walmart had hundreds of thousands of such policies on employees, so every time one of them died, the huge corporation enjoyed a tiny windfall. And that’s dead peasants insurance, or, as it is also known, “janitors insurance”. They are forms of what the insurance industry calls Stoli, or “stranger originated life insurance” – in other words, an insurance policy taken out on your life by someone else, not on your behalf but on theirs.
Michael Sandel is a professor of politics at Harvard, and is one of the best known public intellectuals in America. He enjoyed a worldwide hit with his last book, Justice, the subject of a famous lecture course at Harvard, and gave the 2009 Reith lectures. His new book, What Money Can’t Buy, is a study of “the moral limits of markets”.
For him, the story of dead peasants insurance is an example of how the encroachment of market values can change the character of an industry. Sandel shows how life insurance, which had its origins in the idea that we can mitigate the economic impact of death on survivors and dependents – an idea which was always controversial, and indeed was illegal across much of Europe – was gradually corrupted into a form of betting against other people’s lives.
Another example of this process was the development of “viaticals”. These were insurance policies that had been taken out earlier in their lives by people who were dying of Aids. The life insurance policies of these dying patients were valuable – so a market developed in which these policies were bought by investors, who would give the Aids sufferer a lump sum and would pay for their care during the terminal illness.
Then, when the patient died, the policy would pay out: kerching! The catch for investors was that the longer the patient lived, the less money they would make. “There have been some phenomenal returns,” said the president of one company that specialised in viaticals, “but there have also been some horror stories where people live longer.”