It’s been more than a month since I last completed a post in this series. To refresh your memory: we were looking at the chapters in Michael Sandel‘s book, What Money Can’t Buy. In the first chapter, we looked at things like when it’s okay to jump the line. In the second chapter, we looked at the difference between fines and fees. In the third chapter, we looked at fairness and inequality. In today’s post, the fourth chapter, we’ll look at the markets in life and death.
As with previous chapters, I’ve learned something that I didn’t even know existed. In this chapter, I learned about something called “janitors insurance.” This is another way of saying corporate-owned life insurance. Meaning, a company takes out a life insurance policy on its workers. Now, you may have already assumed (or thought) that companies might take out a life insurance policy on the CEO, as the time and energy that would need to go into finding a new CEO should the current one die suddenly, but would you have considered that some companies take out life insurance policies on workers much lower on the organizational chart?
I’m a little uneasy with this idea and I’m not sure which side I’d come down on if forced to choose. It’s certainly a delicate subject.
This chapter also talked about people being able to sell their life insurance policies. Let’s say a man (or woman) is the breadwinner in the family and takes out life insurance when he’s (or she’s) in his (or her) early 30s. The life insurance is really *only* important to the family through the breadwinner’s working years. So, when the person turns 65 (or when they retire), they feel that they no longer need that insurance — and sell it. Do you think that’s ethical? Is it unethical to prevent someone from selling it?
Again, I’m really not sure what’s right in this situation. For some reason, it feels a little more ethical that the people are willingly selling the life insurance that they had previously bought rather than if someone took out life insurance without their knowledge. Though, I’m aware that this may just be the contrast effect at play.
There were other variations on this theme throughout the chapter, but the one thing that I kept thinking about in response to this idea is the variations on the placebo effect that I’ve written about before. We know how powerful our own thoughts can be for ourselves (example) and how powerful our thoughts can be for others (example) — don’t you think that someone buying life insurance (i.e. buying stock in our eventual death) is a bit like sending negative thoughts to a person? Maybe that’s a little extreme.
The feudal overtones of this insurance are very apt. This is the language of ‘human resources’, with employers taking a calculated economic decision that someone is worth more to them dead than alive. When will people learn that others matter in their own right, not as a tool to be exploited for someone else’s gain? (As someone got nailed to a tree for saying 2,000 years ago.)
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