🌎 Insurance, for you and me

What does it even mean to have it?
Quinn Emmett
January 27, 2023
Audio version

🌎 Insurance, for you and me

Quinn Emmett
January 27, 2023
Full name
Job title, Company name
"I have nightmares that I'm going to wake up, and everyone's driving a Prius and living in a condo, and we're all getting health insurance."

-- Kid Rock, describing my dreams in vivid detail

Welcome back, Shit Givers.

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Everyone needs insurance. But what kind? And what does it mean to have it, or not?


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Counting coins

What the hell does it mean to have “insurance”?

Well, there’s actual insurance, which is a policy where you and an insurer contract with one another in case things go south with (usually) your home, your car, or your body.

There are other examples of actual insurance, of course, but the general agreement is you pay insurers what is sometimes a reasonable on-going fee and in return, they agree to indemnify you against losses, damages, or costs from adverse circumstances. Examples may include strep throat, a basement flood, wildfires, surgery, getting T-boned (and not in the fun way), theft, chemo, surgery, or death.

That’s the layman’s technical explanation, but more colloquially, and for our purposes today, “insurance” can mean just having a buffer or a back up plan, or a “thing you might do to make sure a big decision (like buying a home, having a child, or just generally being a person) doesn’t go to hell in a hand basket.”


Being born white is about the best insurance you can get.

But you didn't choose to be born white, and the people who were born with another skin color didn't get to choose that, either. Moving on.

For example, not spending your entire paycheck every month is a way of having insurance, a buffer, or a backup plan -- if you can afford to do so.

Building a savings account, and/or allocating a healthy chunk of your portfolio in cash and commodities in, say, a time of inflation, war, and climate impacts, is another.

So is eating healthy, getting vaccines, getting some cardio every day, and doing strength work as you age to protect against bone density loss. Again, if these are available to you.

In the former, you’re saying “I’m happy to compound a little less money so when shit hits the fan, I don’t lose it all.”

In the latter cases, you’re not paying an insurance company, but instead trading your processed food for some legumes, and trading your finite time right now for hopefully more time, later.

All of these decisions are usually the result of understanding that just by being alive you’re really putting yourself out there. While you believe in your choices, and the odds of actual calamity are (usually) reasonable, the costs of calamity can be devastating.

My friends: We are in a time of calamity. It’s time to get some insurance.

Street crossing and mural

At large

Procuring insurance requires some sacrifice, and long-term thinking. It's doing your future society/company/self a favor. I talk to my 10 year old about this every single day.

The insurance considerations on a societal level are not so different from your own.

Three years into a pandemic we more or less mishandled, and decades into a climate crisis the instigators not only knew about, but predicted, and then lied about, a society should at the base level insure itself against some devastating blow by building a baseline of readiness across all people, systems, and institutions.

It helps to first establish a desired clear societal outcome. For example, where everyone has:

  • Clean air inside and outside
  • Clean water
  • Access to healthy, affordable food
  • Affordable housing
  • Annual comprehensive health checkups
  • Access to affordable childcare
  • Paid leave

Any one of these, much less combining them, not only improves life for all people on a day-to-day level, but raises the odds that when, say, a pandemic strikes, or a massive drought, or rolling blackouts, that the citizenry and economy has a buffer, or a cushion to fall back on.

It means GDP (if we’re going to continue using that as a measuring stick) is better on a quarterly basis, as people are more secure and healthier, and can go to work.

Or not go to work, if they’re sick, and thus not expose co-workers.

Or to stay home and take care of a sick kid, who is probably less likely to get sick, because her overall circumstances are healthier. That’s insurance.

But a society can and should also purposefully defend against specific "holy shit" crises, like building supercomputers to better predict weather and storms that will inevitably come, or deploying networks of sensors to predict floods and earthquakes, and wastewater monitoring to understand viral loads.

It means guaranteeing a novel coronavirus doesn’t mutate beyond our ability to control it by vaccinating everyone we can find and as quickly as we can, however much it costs, and then we can never talk about this again.

Having insurance means keeping way better track of methane leaks, forever chemicals, and nonrenewable phosphorus, among others. It would be not great to run out of the latter.

It means regulating institutional investors and markets so they can’t drive further emissions from new fossil fuel projects, and don’t expose themselves and retail investors to stranded assets and climate impacts.

It means requiring our biggest banks to describe in detail how climate change scenarios like hurricanes would impact their loans and bottom lines, and disallowing them from purchasing bullshit carbon offsets.

It means understanding that insurance providers and even re-insurance providers are going to have to raise rates and exit some markets, because they simply can’t fulfill every policy, and their bottom lines are under threat, too. Every time a disaster hits, insurance companies go out of business, unable to pay the bills.

It means funding and modernizing disaster relief agencies and partnerships, slowing global heating by reducing emissions, regulating AI bots, and, yes, building real-time datasets that help us understand where we can continue to live and build anew, who to insure among the people that live there, and where we need to back off entirely.

It means in a time of emergency, society bends, but does not break.

Women working

At work

A company’s considerations are slightly different, and go well beyond professional liability insurance, property insurance, workers comp, etc.

Building a more inclusive workforce means your company is less likely to default to business practices, products, services, and algorithms that exclude the historically marginalized, or worse, damage them further. That’s insurance.

Providing your workforce with competitive wages, reasonable hours, family leave, paid leave, legit health insurance, WFH opportunities, continuing education, meaningful stock options, and progressive retirement options that aren’t exposed to, say, stranded fossil fuel assets, will make it more likely they’ll not only stick around, but work hard for you, because they feel safe.

Operating your company under a strict but expansive and transparent ethical mandate means you are slow to hire and quick to fire, attracting workers, projects, and profits that not only grow, but are grounded in your mission, no questions asked.

In the long-term, your impact and reputation compound, and in the short-term, you are less likely to hire some moron VP who will nearly immediately quote-tweet a Neo-Nazi and crush your hard-earned reputation, morale, and bottom line.

Working with ethical manufacturers, suppliers, and distributors for food or textiles or anything else doesn’t just mean a better product, and again, an improved reputation, but a healthier, more reliable supply chain.

You should absolutely still insure against accidents and losses and more, but raising the baseline reduces the odds you’ll need to call in that policy, or that your supply chain will break down, when, again just an example here, a pandemic hits and you own a bunch of meatpacking factories and all of your workers die.

Similarly, building foundational “zero trust” cybersecurity policies at your company, or college, or infrastructure, and pairing them with (not cheap) insurance policies can reduce (but not eliminate) exposure to data leaks, hacks, and ransom.

In a normal operating environment, you can project your costs, and to a lesser extent, your revenues (hopefully one of those is higher than the other).

But when shit hits the fan, and it will, it helps if your company is already resilient — not just able to ride the storm, but to meaningfully contribute to local or society-wide recovery efforts through your inherent expertise or volunteer hours.


At home

If you own your home, and you live there, it’s considered your primary residence. You’re gonna need to insure it. Same with wherever you’re renting.

Your primary residence may not necessarily be a part of your investment portfolio, but if you own it, it’s an asset, and probably your biggest, and so a significant cut of your net worth.

But it’s also your home, where you raise and shelter your family, and a major source of peace of mind. Understanding where your home is located and what it’s exposed to should be a fundamental step in deciding whether or not to buy, rent, or sell it.

While we’re still early in the insurance data revolution, there are more options available every day to understand whether or not that apartment or house is up to code, retrofitted against earthquakes, likely to flood on sunny days or stormy ones, or be in the path of a fire.

In most cases, mortgage writers require you to have a policy before you close, so you might as well get the best one you can afford, because while we generally have an idea of what’s coming, there’s a lot we don’t know.

But before you even put down an offer, there's a bit more you can do to understand your exposures (and more tools than ever for insurers). But it’s early. Very early, and policy hasn’t caught up to the data yet.

How early?

  • 98% of Californians do not have flood insurance
  • 32 trillion gallons of rain and snow fell on California since Christmas
  • Federal flood maps and land-use guidelines haven’t been updated since the 1970’s
  • Insurers were disallowed from using “catastrophic” fire projections until recently, when things have been, shall we say, catastrophic
  • Almost $5 billion in federal grants, disaster loans, and flood insurance payments have been provided to the state of Florida and households alone since Hurricane Ian
  • Last year, payouts from damages worldwide exceeded $120 billion

Who gets to measure these risks, who gets to set the rates, and who can afford them are questions our society doesn’t usually deal very well with.

Electing people to every level of office who actually live in these places, who understand these risks and who seek to buttress our most exposed neighbors — usually the most marginalized —  is a key tenet of how we improve baselines on the daily and build resilience for the hardest days and nights.

So donate to, and campaign and vote for those folks — no action in isolation — but also get the best policy you can. Make sure it covers water.

Know that shit happens, and will increasingly happen, wherever you are. Get sensors to notify you about floods from pipes or storms, have a fire evacuation plan that includes walking away from it all, and practice it with your neighbors and family. Buy the highest-rated air filters you can afford and change them every month. Build a home emergency kit that fits your exposures. Earthquake kits and hurricane kits are very different.

Men exercise in Thailand


Forget the apps and the keto and the sleep scores. Taking care of yourself on a day to day basis isn’t that goddamn hard, if you are physically able, and can afford the time and money.

If you can, eat mostly plants and very little sugar, stopping three hours before you go to bed, which should be seven-to-eight hours before you have to wake up. Get some cardio and strength training a few times a week, and as you walk, bike, or take public transportation to work, call a dear friend.

Definitely try not to sit all day. Take a walk after lunch, either through nature or with another close friend, and don’t compare your success to hers, ask instead, “How can I help?”

Turn off most of your goddamn notifications, lock your phone in a box when you’re with your kids or loved ones, and dock it outside your bedroom at night, which should be cold and dark.

Practice a little gratitude at night and meditate a little in the morning as you expose yourself to some actual sunlight, warm up your body a little bit, have a big glass of water, and you’re back at it.

You’re never — ever —  going to do it all right, but that’s expected, and ok. If you can do even some of it, some of the time, 1) bless you and 2) please use some of your spare time to fight for systems that’ll help others do the same thing.

With great power comes great responsibility, etc, etc, but really, think about it: you have the ability to not only live your own great, meaningful life, but help others live better lives, too.

You, an adult human who sometimes chooses to subsist on Trader Joe's Panda Puffs for days at a time, can literally affect how someone is able to live their life.

That’s outrageous and wonderful and I’m fairly sure will help you live longer (the mutual aid, not the Panda Puffs).

As Morgan Housel wrote, “Money’s greatest intrinsic value -- and this can’t be overstated -- is its ability to give you control over your time.” Insurance, purchased with money, can also give you peace of mind. Health, purchased with money and time, can give you peace of mind. Compassion and action cost time, but compound like you wouldn’t believe.

Do all of this, and you’ll have insured your ability to live with energy and compassion, and to weather sickness and injury. Which will definitely happen! Especially if there’s another pandemic (there will be) or an earthquake or storm or you foolishly accept your 7 year’s challenge to race across the yard and your hamstring separates clean from the bone.

Make sure you and your family have good health insurance, if you can afford it. Don’t forget about dental and vision. And don't forget a bunch of asshats in Washington and elsewhere are still, constantly trying to make Obamacare go away. Vote against them.

Make sure everyone at your company gets health coverage, too. If you can, spend a little time each month campaigning for your red state to take the goddamn Medicaid money, or for your blue state to make housing 1) affordable and 2) plentiful.

Are you a runner? Hiker? Driver? Get one of the Apple Watches with the SOS and the crash detection. It’s not for you. It’s for your family.

Wear a bike helmet, and campaign for protected bike lanes. Protect those less capable than you by walking people to their car in the dark, and campaign for better lighted streets and parking lots, covered with solar panels.

Stuff a loved one’s stocking with personal safety gear and show up when they need help. Do that, and you’ll insure they do the same for you.

Amish house building

Behavior change

Yeah Atomic Habits was great and my Duolingo streak is hanging on by a thread, but understand those existing because humans do not like change. It’s fuuuuuuucking exhausting.

Given the means, we want to live where we want to live, we want to travel guilt-free, we want both fresh food all year and to eat unhealthy food whenever the hell we feel like it, we want compound interest on our investments, in whatever sector is printing money this year, ecosystems be damned, we want a job that pays well.

But we have to change, because we fucked that all up, and change means making some real sacrifices, especially if you’re in the global top 10%, much less the 1%.

The great news: Every fuckup is an opportunity.

We can and have to multisolve to insure our society, institutions, companies, families, and ourselves against a more volatile today and tomorrow, however much we are simultaneously working to make them better, for everyone.

Eliminating emissions, providing universal sick leave, and guaranteeing clean air inside and outside would get us a hell of a long way towards a less chaotic world, but those require commitments we’ve never really made before, despite the very clear incentives to do so. The same goes for regulating trucks, sugar, guns, and more, even, again, when we know more than we’ve ever known.

Incentives are usually everything, but the self-awareness to say “We simply cannot go on like this, to expose ourselves like this” will go a long way, whether it’s allowing for massive trucks and assault rifles or hammering down a grande Diet Coke every morning, just to feel alive.

Voltaire said “History never repeats itself; man always does.” Hooo boy was he spot on.

Self-awareness is knowing how much we can and will actually change, figuring out how to start doing it, and then insuring against the rest so the future is better than the past.

The thing is, though, we have to do it together. In fact, that’s how insurance works. We all pay something every month so when a small percentage of us is inevitably kicked in the nuts, insurers can pay out the big bucks to put them back on their feet (or give them new feet, depending).

Remember: It’s not about how many times you/we get knocked down, it’s about getting back up again. And that’s pretty goddamn hard without someone to help you up. That's insurance.



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