Originally created 10/18/01

Profits of disaster

Nearly every sector of the American economy was impacted by the events of Sept. 11.

One of the first and most dramatic effects happened in the airline industry, which has operated on tight profit margins during recent years, making it vulnerable to a heavy economic blow. Airline travel is off 34 percent since Sept. 11, and will likely limp along for some time to come.

The situation required immediate taxpayer assistance to get the industry back on its feet, and Congress approved a whopping $15 billion to keep the nation's transportation system from imploding. But it was a Band-Aid only - not a permanent welfare check.

When Congress gets in a big-spending mood, there are plenty of industries ready to line up for a share of the post-disaster pork.

Among those asking for free money is the insurance industry, which has stated it simply cannot go forward without some indemnity provided by Joe Taxpayer.

In other words, the insurance industry wants taxpayers to insure it.

There's a lot of Americans who don't understand how insurance companies work, but they do understand that their insurance rates have steadily risen year after year - health, life and property insurance have cost more and offered less protection than ever.

Some big-name homeowner insurance companies like State Farm and Safeco raised rates 25 percent this year, even before the Sept. 11 attacks.

Insurance firms don't just hold onto that money and pay out claims. They invest it in the stock market and elsewhere, just like so many Americans do. And, like many Americans, insurance companies have taken a big hit in the past 18 months.

The chief executive officers of these companies (many pull down $50 million a year in compensation) haven't been able to return the record profits to shareholders as they have in the past.

Along comes the World Trade Center attack, and the insurance industry spots a way to keep profits up at a time when their stock investments look like kitty litter. Insurers now tell Congress that no single company can afford to buy property risk any more, because of the dangers posed by terrorists.

The real estate industry stands with the insurance industry in its quest for money, warning the Bush Administration that without help, real estate trading will dry up all over the country. We have a bridge we'd like to sell the real estate lobbyists.

The insurance lobby wants you, Joe Taxpayer, to fund an additional reinsurance agency to insure the already existing reinsurance companies (those companies that insure insurers).

Fellow taxpayers, this ploy doesn't pass the smell test.

After Hurricane Andrew in 1992, companies decided they wouldn't cover hurricane damage anymore. Profits rose, and that was OK. After the 1994 California earthquake, insurers said they wouldn't cover quakes anymore. Profits rose, and that was OK.

Now, insurance companies are hinting they won't be able to cover claims for future damage by terrorists - a pretty broad category, when you stop to think about it.

In other words, no coverage for acts of God and no coverage for acts of Satan, and profits rise with the help of corporate welfare.

That's not OK.


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