In a special report, Reuters tells a fascinating and horrifying story, a tale of intrigue, death and bizarre financial manipulation.
This story is about life settlement products. It’s a very comfortable sounding name for something far more sinister, the purchase of insurance policies statistically figured to pay off because of the death of the original owner.
From the article –
Life settlement products first appeared in the mid-1990s. Typically, the market is fed by elderly individuals with life expectancies of between 3 and 12 years. U.S. settlement companies buy these life insurance policies at a fraction of their face value, but above their cash surrender values, picking up the tab for insurance premiums and collecting on the death benefit — or policy maturity.
Industry proponents say that as long as the models used to predict the deaths of underlying policy holders are broadly correct, a suitably large portfolio should offer a healthy return, despite the industry’s often eyewatering commissions and fees — as much as 10 percent upfront — and the lack of generally agreed rules about how to value portfolios.
At what point, did we as a society arrive here? We are at a place where gambling on the time of death of the elderly is a legitimate way of making money. I’m not talking about life insurance. That’s a long term deal in which both parties benefit. I’m talking about buying out insurance policies for a fraction of their value and making a killing on the early deaths of the holders.
Well, let’s look at the rule of the business world’s favorite economist – “There is one and only one social responsibility of business–to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud”
I would note that what counts as the “rules of the game” seems to be rather flexible, and if you can figure out why any businessman would engage in free and open competition, you’re one up on me. As for deception and fraud, on everything from bank fees to credit cards, making sure that knowledge is limited and initial offers inviting, has created whole industries based on oversell by obscuring the facts.
I would argue that the only part of that statement, that businesses in the United States heard, was the unconditional purpose of making money as the only, single rationale for business. This rule is not a fact, it is the beginning of an economic religion.
That’s how you get gambling on old dead people. It’s making money. It’s within the rules. There is competition. The deception or fraud does not directly violate law.
It takes an economic religion, a new set of sacred beliefs, to overrule the pangs of conscience, to disregard the duty of religion, to escape the burden of civilization and to be deaf to the pleas of the patriot.
That’s why we are here, a national moral vacuum.