We’re Not in This Together

Ajay Singh Chaudhary in The Baffler:

Over the past decade and a half, major insurance companies like AIG and Chubb have begun to offer private emergency services “to elite policyholders.” It is one of the more straightforward ways to think about the commodification of risk. Highly expensive assets face catastrophic threat; the insurance company packages that threat and sells two attractive products. The first is insurance against climate damage; the second is access to services to prevent having to pay out when damage occurs. From the firm’s point of view, they’ve sold two products at a tidy profit and avoided the exorbitant payout involved with actually covering insured losses. From the client’s point of view, despite a steep cost, the financial and psychological burden of losing their home is avoided. For these two parties, it is, indeed, a win-win scenario.

However, there are “externalities,” so to speak, in privatized social services. Such private services skirt or run right over what tiny regulations exist for them. They physically impede and complicate public emergency services. Protecting assets can be at odds with saving lives. And the same companies lobby for tax and infrastructure policies that necessitate their services, starving the public emergency service which, in the case of California, deploys severely underpaid incarcerated people to enhance dwindling state capacity. Although insurance companies and the emergency service contractors themselves focus on the high-end market, they are increasingly creating more affordable, less comprehensive packages for lower tiers of customers. This kind of tiered access to services is familiar to anyone who has encountered private or privatized social goods, like market-based health insurance. And yet it is also an extreme intensification, where there is seemingly no obstacle to privatized governance. In this example, we can see one microcosm of what I call right-wing climate realism.

More here.