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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 October 28, 2020

    The Crucial Letter Your SMART Goal Is Missing

    The Crucial Letter Your SMART Goal Is Missing

    SMART goals are a simple, logical way to organize your goals as you set them throughout life. Not only does this technique help you identify reachable goals, but it helps break down goals into smaller and more manageable pieces.

    However, there is one crucial element (or letter) that is missing from this acronym. This missing letter can potentially make it harder for you to reach your goal – no matter how well you have broken down your goal into different pieces and action steps. However, once you understand this missing piece, you’ll be able to use it to move forward with your goals.

    What Are Smart Goals?

    If you are not familiar with the SMART goal setting technique and what the acronym means, here is a brief rundown with a simple example:

    • S = Specific — Your goal has to be specific enough (“I want to lose 4 inches off my waist”).
    • M = Measurable — You can measure your waistline every week to keep track of your progress.
    • A = Achievable — Do you think that you can do this? Or are you going too far by getting rid of yet another 4 inches? Or should you expand the goal to 5 inches; is that within reach?
    • R = Realistic — Is your lifestyle stable enough that you can commit to this goal?  Are you mentally prepared to do this? Do you have the resources you need for this goal?
    • T = Time-framed — You could want to achieve this goal within a week or within six months, but it should have a specific time frame.

    As you can see, when you break down your goals like this, they become much more manageable and concrete than just saying “I want to to be slimmer.”

    All fine and well, except that there is a crucial letter missing in this package – another letter “A.”

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    The Missing Letter

    The other letter “A” stands for accountability, and this is a great way to make sure that your defined plan is actually executed and is not left just on the talking or planning level. Even if you have crafted a masterful plan by using the SMART goal technique, it becomes useless if you don’t actually execute it. To make sure you start the execution phase, you want to throw some accountability into the mix.

    By having some external pressure on your back (in the form of accountability), you are more likely to take action on your goal steps than if you just keep the plan to yourself. Accountability is based on the fact that you want to stand behind your words and save face. When you announce your goal to the world, you realize that the world is now watching you, and you don’t want to let the world down.

    Accountability is also about facing the expectations of others. If you announce a goal or a task in public, other people are expecting you will achieve the tasks and goals you have laid out for yourself.

    Watch this video and find out how by having dependable accountability, you can reach your goal more efficiently:

    Ways to Implement the Letter “A” in Your Goal

    There are plenty of ways you can go about creating accountability. Choose which one will work to motivate you the most.

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    1. Keep It to Yourself

    I was a bit hesitant to include this, since in this scenario you are not telling others about your plans or tasks. However, for some people this might work since your conscience is your accountability partner in this situation. And you don’t want to let your conscience down.

    2. Announce It to Other People

    Your people could be your colleagues at work, your local golf club buddies, the subscribers and readers of your blog, or your Twitter followers. I would say that accountability is more effective when dealing with “offline people.” Being accountable face-to-face to someone is very effective.

    I’m in no way underestimating the power of “online people” either. If you are trying to form solid relationships with others online, you want to keep your word – even if you don’t necessarily meet the people in the same sense as in the offline world.

    3. Find an Accountability Partner

    A more intimate way of being accountable is to find an accountability partner. This could be a friend or spouse, but it needs to be someone you feel comfortable reporting to. When this route is chosen, you might decide to call your partner on a frequent basis to tell them how well you are progressing on the goal.

    4. Get on Stickk.com

    If none of the above ways work for you, it’s time to put Stickk into play.

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    Stickk.com is a website where you can announce your goal (“Commitment Contract”), and to make you even more committed to reaching that goal, there is money at stake. Money is not mandatory to get set up with Stickk, but knowing that you will lose a certain amount of money if you don’t reach your goal can give you an extra push to get stuff done.

    5. Join Mastermind Groups

    A mastermind group is a group of like-minded people gathering on a frequent basis (online or offline), trying to push each other closer to their goals. This type of accountability is very common in the business world. When you are in a mastermind group and you have set the objectives you want to achieve by the next meeting, you want to get stuff done and fulfill other’s expectations.

    Mastermind groups are a great way to improve your productivity and reach your goals with the help of others.

    6. Hire a Coach

    If you really want to get personal attention for your goals, then hiring a personal coach may be the best way to stay accountable.

    Not only are you accountable to your coach, but you also have to pay for his/her attention. This makes the coach option even more effective. You want to make sure you do everything you can to get the assignments done before the deadline you two have set. So, there is a money factor to keep you accountable as well. Since you want to quickly move forward, this option is a very effective for staying accountable with your SMART goals.

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    The Bottom Line

    Next time, set your goal using “SMARTA,” instead. Add that letter “A” to the SMART goal setting technique:

    Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-framed, Accountable.

    The accountability factor of reaching your goals may be just the thing you need to make them a reality.

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    Featured photo credit: Estée Janssens via unsplash.com

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