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Risk: The Morbidity Principle

Risk: The Morbidity Principle


    (Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from the book Acts of God and Man: Ruminations on Risk and Insurance by Michael R. Powers. Powers is professor of risk management and insurance at Temple University’s Fox School of Business, and distinguished visiting professor of finance at Tsinghua University’s School of Economics and Management. He serves as chief editor of the Journal of Risk Finance and the Asia-Pacific Journal of Risk and Insurance. In the book, Powers discusses how risk impacts our lives, health, and possessions and proceeds to introduce the statistical techniques necessary for analyzing these uncertainties. This excerpt (originally posted on the Columbia University Press Blog) is from the chapter The Alpha and the Omega of Risk: The Significance of Mortality, where Powers discusses the morbidity principle. For more information please visit http://www.cup.columbia.edu, and follow the author on Facebook.)

    In today’s business world, professional risk managers often construct extensive lists of pure and speculative risks, including every imaginable type of uncertainty to which individuals and firms are exposed. Among pure risks, one finds traditional “insurance” perils such as fire, wind, theft, disease, and professional negligence, along with more complex hazards such as substandard construction, inadequate security, technological obsolescence, and political instability. Speculative risks include real estate, common financial securities (stocks, bonds, commodities, etc.), and interest and currency-derivative products, as well as market- specific changes in the prices of raw materials, human capital, and end-of-line goods and services.

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    Fortunately, a remarkable simplicity underlies these myriad risks. Despite the great number of individual sources of risk, there are only a very few exposures subject to risk. These fundamental exposures are life, health, and possessions.

    One then might ask: Why should we be concerned about the quality of life? I would argue that the following two principles provide the answer:

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    1. The Morbidity Principle. An individual/corporation/society whose quality of life is damaged will have a greater chance of imminent death.
    2. The Lost-Gratification Principle. An individual/corporation/society whose quality of life is damaged may not have the opportunity to enjoy recovery of health or restitution of possessions before death occurs (i.e., “a good quality of life today is worth more than a good quality of life tomorrow”).

    In short, the life exposure underlies all other types of exposures. For individuals and societies, the morbidity principle would have been particularly evident in the Old Stone Age, when human beings had developed useful tools, but were still primarily hunter- gatherers. At that time, quality-of-life exposures, although they existed, could not be separated easily from the life exposure because the loss of health (through injury or illness) or possessions (clothing, shelter, or hunting implements) would increase significantly the chance of death in the near future. Hence, in many cases loss of quality of life would be tantamount to loss of life.

    The morbidity principle continues to apply to individuals and societies today, but not as dramatically. Despite the various “safety nets” that modern governments provide for their more vulnerable citizens, it is still an empirical fact that the injured and ill, as well as the economically poor, die at faster rates than others. This is also true for societies at large, as can be seen in the declines of certain populations in Eastern Europe since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. With regard to corporations, reductions in revenue, market share, and/or profitability are in many cases harbingers of bankruptcy. Although a cursory review of today’s financial products might give the impression that quality-of-life exposures actually overshadow the life exposure — after all, the only financial product that specifically addresses mortality is life insurance — the lost-gratification principle belies such a conclusion. If anything, the role of mortality is difficult to discern because it is so prevalent that we tend to overlook it.

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    The life exposure underlies all traditional insurance policies, whether held by individuals or commercial enterprises. This is because the policies are designed to provide reasonably quick medical attention or restitution of property, presumably before the policyholder’s life terminates. In addition, the life exposure is fundamental to all financial transaction risks. Lenders, whether they be individuals, corporations, or government bodies, must be compensated for the possibility that they will cease to exist before their loans are repaid; and the early death of a borrower can transform this possibility into a certainty. In other words, mortality is the essential reason, even in an economy with no expected change in either income or prices, “a dollar today is worth more than a dollar tomorrow,” and thus the reason the nominal risk- free rate of return (oft en taken to be the nominal return on a U.S. Treasury bill) must be strictly greater than 0.

    (Photo credit: Dice rolling on Business via Shutterstock)

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    Last Updated on June 19, 2019

    8 Life-Changing Skills You Can Learn in Less Than 6 Months

    8 Life-Changing Skills You Can Learn in Less Than 6 Months

    Everyone has the ability to learn a life-changing skill not just this year, but in the next 6 months.

    By life-changing, I mean something that can have a positive impact in your life moving forward, even if it’s something you can’t envision today. Certain skills we can immediately reap the benefits of, while others will be life-changing when we least expect it.

    In this article, we’ll share 8 life-changing skills you can learn in 6 months, where you can learn them, and how you can get started today.

    1. Speed reading

    Bill Gates has been known to state that if he had one superpower, it would be the ability to read faster. What Bill and the rest of the mega-successful understand is that knowledge is power. The ability to process information faster from books, articles, and reports is what will help us learn faster, and therefore improve each aspect of our life faster as well.

    Where you can start learning: Speed reading courses are becoming more popular, as more people realize how important it is with the limited time we have. You can check out free courses like Read Speeder or you can start learning how to use Spritzlet, which allows you to speed read articles online with a browser extension.

    2. Public speaking

    Research shows that people fear public speaking more than death itself. There’s something terrifying about being in front of dozens or hundreds of people, and exposing yourself completely. It’s when you’re most vulnerable, but learning how to public speak is a life-changer.

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    Warren Buffett has given advice to recent graduates that the number one skill you can have to succeed is public speaking skills. Everything from communication, confidence, and sales is developed when you develop your public speaking skills.

    Where you can start learning: Luckily, there are great communities out there like Toastmasters that organize local meetups all around the world. You’ll find amazing public speakers that are looking to get to the next level to beginners that are just getting started. Check out Toastmasters’ website here.

    3. Spanish

    As the third most spoken language in the world, the ability to speak Spanish will allow you to reach over 500M people around the world. No matter where you live, knowing how to speak Spanish is becoming increasingly more important, with the Hispanic population and economy spreading quickly worldwide. If you’re living in the US, this is even more important, with over 30% of the population being Hispanic.

    Spanish is also on this list, because it’s one of the easiest languages to learn. Sure, Mandarin is an important language to learn, but it’s an incredibly difficult one to learn. If we were to measure the level of importance and the time to learn for all the languages available, Spanish would make it to the top of the list.

    One of the biggest reasons why people never reach fluency in any foreign language is: using the wrong method, and lack of time.

    It turns out that humans retain only 5% of what we learn from lectures, 20% of what we learn from apps (visual cues), and 90% of what we learn from immediate immersion. Yet, how do 90% of learn a new foreign language? Language schools (lectures), books, Duolingo (apps), etc that don’t provide the real-life immersion required for our brains to learn faster.

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    Where to get started: If you want the most effective way to learn a language, learning from real-life interactions is the best way to do it. There are great websites like Rype, which offers Spanish coaching for busy people, solving the issue of lack of time and bringing real-life immersion to your screen. With Rype, you can book as many lessons as you want, at any time of the day, any day of the week, allowing you to fit it into your schedule, no matter how busy you are.

    4. Accounting

    If you’re looking to get into business, accounting is one of the core fundamentals you’ll need to succeed. While you don’t need to be an expert, you definitely should understand the basics.

    This skill can also be used to manage your personal finances, to meet your financial goals, and having more control over your life.

    Where to get started learning: If you didn’t learn accounting in school, no worries. You can either teach yourself using books, or check out free accounting courses online.

    5. Microsoft Excel

    Most people reading this probably have a basic understanding of Microsoft Excel Spreadsheet. While this is a good start, there are so many powerful functionalities that are hidden, which could make your life a lot easier.

    Excel is also a great asset to have whenever you’re looking for a job, as many corporations rely on Excel to organize and manage multiple parts of the business.

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    Where to get started learning: With the popularity of Excel, you can find tons of free resources and videos online to learn. Check out Excel Exposure, Lynda, and Excel with Business.

    6. Blogging/Vlogging

    Blogging is a powerful tool if you want to spread your ideas, build your brand, or grow your business. Since it was introduced, blogging has taken on a life of its own, and today there are ~2M blog posts being written on a daily basis.

    Where to get started learning: Anyone can start blogging today. All you need is a content-management system like WordPress, which is completely free. Personally, I think the best way to start learning how to blog is to just start writing. There are techniques you can learn on how to promote your blog, but the best way to grow your blog is to write great content.

    7. Weight training

    Yes, weight training is a skill. It’s not as advanced as learning how to code, nor will it take as long as learning a new language, if you just want to learn the basics.

    We’re not promising that you’ll get a body like Arnold Schwarzenegger, but you will see much faster results for whatever goal you have, just by understanding how to workout properly. And of course, when you’re dealing with an activity that involves physical strain, you’ll always want to caution yourself.

    Where to get started learning: There are amazing body builders that are sharing all of their secrets for free on Youtube. You can check out Bodybuilding.com’s Youtube channel to get started.

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    8. Photo and video editing

    In the digital world that we live in, from Youtube, Instagram, and Facebook, there is no avoiding photos and videos. In fact, social media has increasingly gone away from text sharing and almost everything to photo and video editing.

    Where to get started learning: For photo editing, you can use Photoshop. For video editing, you can use iMovie or Final Cut Pro. Keep in mind, there are dozens of editing software tools for video and photo editing, but what’s more important are your editing skills, not the tool itself.

    Check out education websites like CreativeLIVE or Skillshare, where you can learn from experts themselves on how to best use design and software tools.

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