The Risk in Preparing for a Long Haul

It quickly became apparent during the very first classroom meeting of my undergraduate Insurance and Risk course more than 40 years ago that notwithstanding the personal and family issues that were severely distracting my concentration from academic matters during that particular time, I would learn some valuable concepts in the course.  The course textbook authors had acknowledged in their preface the course professor’s valuable assistance in writing the tome, and I later learned that this professor’s name was internationally known in various sectors of the insurance industry.

During that first class meeting, one student asked the professor how purchasing an insurance policy differed from gambling.  The professor’s demeanor immediately became exercised as he emphatically stated, “When you gamble, you create risk for its own sake!    This course is about dealing with the risk and uncertainty that already exists.  Understand the difference between the two!”

The professor then went on to discuss various examples of how naturally-occurring risks are handled by transferring them to a person or entity better able to bear the risk, thereby giving some  certainty and security to the one originally burdened by the risk.  The financial markets transfer risk to the investors so that the entrepreneurs can produce and innovate products and services, and insurance policies transfer risks so that people and corporations can meaningfully plan their lives.  Risks are even transferred amongst the insurance companies themselves so that the industry can remain viable and the public can be protected from insurance carrier failures.

The COVID-19 pandemic now upon us entails many uncertainties (and therefore, risks) which were unfathomable just a few months ago.  The scientific community has only barely begun to understand the nature of this deadly virus, and we cannot be certain where the havoc the epidemic is creating in all aspects of our lives will eventually lead us.  Science issues aside, the uncertainties in the status and future of the Israeli government only exacerbate the risks.

This is the third posting to a new blog on the Times of Israel website.  Each of the two previous postings makes mention of the mandatory masking emergency regulation.  This posting follows suit, not because of any obsession with the matter, but because the issue of mandatory face masks continually shows up as blips on the radar screen.

On a social media group which is by and for current and former residents of the suburban Philadelphia locale where I spent my teenage years, I posted to the effect that mandatory masking had become the rule in Israel, and would likely arrive soon in America.  This received criticism from some who insisted that what was happening in Israel was not relevant to America; one such person even accused me of spreading alarmist falsehoods.

Turns out that yesterday, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf gave me vindication by elevating his suggestion that Pennsylvanians use masks to a mandatory order requiring the use of masks by, inter alios, employees and customers in retail stores.

As noted in my two previous postings on this Blog, I personally take very seriously my responsibility to wear a face mask in public places during the current COVID-19 exigency because the odds of my exhaling the virus are greater than the odds of actually contracting COVID-19 by inhaling the virus.  Requiring universal face masks would reduce the quantity of viruses available to inhale, while leaving truly susceptible people such as healthcare workers an available supply of equipment such as the N95 inhalers to deal with the risks of inhalation.

Accordingly, despite my strong concerns over the “Big Brother” issues, I unabashedly advocate the mandatory use of face masks in public, and meaningful enforcement of the requirement.

The previous posting of 10 April 2020 relates how I purchased some home-crafted masks from Ya’arah, an enterprising young lady in my neighborhood who, locked down in her apartment, had placed her skills to gainful use at her mother’s sewing machine.  Two news items subsequently came to my attention:

Firstly, Maj. Gen. Tamir Yadai, the Home Front Command chief, has stated for the record that he expects this WuFlu epidemic to persist for at least another year.  Secondly, “With the intention of making mask wearing a norm,” the Health Ministry has begun the manufacture of face masks in a venture that has employed more than one thousand Israeli seamstresses who, on the very first day, produced more than 300,000 masks.

Those two pieces of information convinced me that the face mask requirement is likely to remain on the books in Israel come this time next year, and perhaps two years hence if it does not permanently become the new normal; it seems that officials in the United States are now thinking along the same lines.

Now that the requirement to wear face masks in public is effectively the law, it is likely to remain in force for all sorts of reasons.  For one thing, the bureaucratic inertia factor is indisputably present in a country that has depended for too long upon a caretaker regime while an official government has yet to be constituted.

The law is simple to enforce.  A person is either wearing a mask or is not; the location of one’s residence is irrelevant in a face mask violation, while critical in determining whether the same person has or has not strayed beyond the 100-meter limit from their home.  Moreover, the masking requirement can be monetized by police officers writing tickets to those who fail to mask up in public, an attractive feature for a government whose tax revenues have shrunken from too many idle sectors of the economy.

The requirement to wear masks would impede commerce in few sectors; while the markets for commodities such as lipsticks and other women’s cosmetics would likely take a significant hit, the banks are going cyber anyway, and bankers will have increasingly fewer occasions to tremble in fear of masked people approaching the teller windows.

Convinced as I now am that we will all be required to wear masks for at least another year, I placed another order with Ya’arah.  I now will have a sufficient supply of adequate masks to last me for a year at least.  The new purchase of masks was not a gamble because it created no risk that did not already exist.

But whether you call my latest 100-sheqel acquisition a gamble, a speculation, an insurance policy, or anything else, it is one in which I would be pleased to be proven mistaken.

About the Author
Born in Philadelphia, Kenneth lived on Long Island and made Aliyah to Israel. Professionally, he worked as a lawyer in the USA (including as an attorney for the Internal Revenue Service), a college professor and an analyst for the U.S. Department of Defense. He's also a writer and a traveler.
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