From a letter written to The Chronicle . Editors Chronicle: In your review of Prof. Wright's new book, "The Politics and Mysteries of Life Insurance," you take to task, very severely, the actuaries of this country for indifference or timidity, in so far as they do not approve or condemn, endorse or refute, the principles urged by Mr. Wright as a necessary reform in the business. I hope as a body we do not deserve such sweeping censure, while, at the same time, I agree with you that the deliberate utterances of Mr. ...
From a letter written to The Chronicle . Editors Chronicle: In your review of Prof. Wright's new book, "The Politics and Mysteries of Life Insurance," you take to task, very severely, the actuaries of this country for indifference or timidity, in so far as they do not approve or condemn, endorse or refute, the principles urged by Mr. Wright as a necessary reform in the business. I hope as a body we do not deserve such sweeping censure, while, at the same time, I agree with you that the deliberate utterances of Mr. Wright, upon any question of life insurance, merit, and should receive, the earnest attention not only of all actuaries, but of every one interested in the welfare of life insurance. A long life devoted with heroic self-sacrifice to the cause of the oppressed and down-trodden, -extraordinary talents devoted with singleness of purpose, and with marked success, to make life insurance popular and pure, -and, above all, an honesty which is transparently incorruptible, have caused the name of Elizur Wright to be dear to all who can appreciate such qualities. A radical by nature, it is not strange that in politics, religion and life insurance, Mr. Wright is often in advance of his time. The following letter, written nearly two and a half years ago, will show my opinion upon the insurance value question. The principle of assessing expenses, and basing the surrender charge upon the insurance values is correct; but, as in the case of all reforms, practical difficulties are opposed to its adoption. To pay commission upon the pure endowment portion of a premium, which is essentially a savings deposit, is as absurd as to pay a commission for procuring a deposit in a savings bank; and yet all life insurance companies do so. This is one cause of disappointment and dissatisfaction to many policyholders, and the practice should be discontinued, if we would avoid danger in the future. My opinion, then, is that commissions and the surrender charge should be based upon the insurance values, with small margins respectively, upon the gross premium for the cost of collection, &c, and upon the reserve for possible cost or risk in calling in investments. To prevent the possibility of a run it might be well to provide that the company should require notice of sixty or thirty days. What these margins should be is a question difficult to answer. The right to live is inherent with corporations as well as with individuals, and a margin which would be just and safe in an old or strong company, might work ruin in a new or weak company. A limit safe for the latter class might be named, while the former might make performances better than the promise or any legal requirements. An iron rule for all companies, however, is unjust, and may work injury, although it may be defended by the same logic which justifies an iron rule for state purposes as a test of solvency. Present contracts and usages with agents present obstacles to the practical application of this principle; but if life insurance is worth anything, it must be because sound principles, rather than convenience or simplicity, govern its application.
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