Dear Insurance Wizards,
I just received in the mail “Liberty Lines,” a newsletter sent to all Liberty Mutual policyholders. Because it was festooned with pictures of Stars and Stripes and exploding fireworks, I could not help but notice the “For the Love of Country” grant promotion my insurer is underwriting, presumably with funds from those of us who faithfully pay our auto and home premiums. Liberty Mutual boasts that its grants pays for fireworks displays over the July Fourth weekend in a select few towns around the country. No doubt many other insurers also use the occasion to jack up your own patriotic street cred in other ways. Don't get me wrong. I love my country as much as the next guy down the street, but the financial pain Americans are feeling now is not the kind that can be assuaged with a few Roman candles blasting into the night sky and frightening house pets, or some cheaply made (in China, no doubt) flag lapel pins sent to policy holders. Frankly, I believe that the majority of your policyholders would prefer you displayed your patriotism by lowering your monthly premiums rather than profligately pissing it away for a few minutes of explosions or other chintzy junk that amounts to nothing more than using your customers' money for your own self-promotion. Pandering to patriotism is crass enough in normal times, but in these perilous financial times it's tin-eared in the extreme to think this will soften our “mutual” economic blows while we ponder our nation's fight for “liberty.”
Perhaps, in addition to more judiciously spending money, Liberty Mutual, say, could ask its CEO, Edmund “Ted” Kelly to take a cut in his $40 million annual pay. Or, as Greg Hladky reported here recently, United Health's CEO Stephen Hemsley could kick back some of his $102 million annual compensation. Or, really, check out the pay of any corporate CEO in the country. You'll find, for example, that Humana's Michael McCallister made 185 times his median worker's pay last year; WellPoint's Angela Braly “earned” $13,460,445 last year, or 405 times what the median worker was paid; Coventry's Allen Wise made $13,647,413 last year, or 411 times his workers' median pay (Coventry's profits are up 116.4 percent to boot, too). In each of these cases, a modest cut of a few million could be patriotically passed on to policy holders who, in the final analysis, are the ones footing the bills.
Shall we talk patriotism? OK, then. Liberty Mutual's CEO Ted Kelly has pompously boasted to the business press that he finds it much easier to do business in other countries than in America. It angers him, apparently, that we have laws — as paltry as they are and as haphazardly as they are enforced — that protect the environment, workers' rights, public health and the common good. Indeed, he has bade Liberty Mutual to deny and delay paying valid workers' compensation claims in order to maximize short-term profits.
Where is the patriotism and “love of country” in that? Right, it's about where it is in most other corporate front offices, where they salute the flag, hide income in offshore accounts and outsource American jobs to India, China and Bangladesh.
Yes, I can already hear it: Bisbort is conducting class war! Bisbort is a Marxist! Not that there's anything wrong with being a Marxist, but I am not one. In fact, as a freelance writer, editor and book hustler, I am America's backbone — a small-business man — and I have always paid my taxes without endlessly bitching and moaning about it.
If Liberty Mutual wants to demonstrate their patriotism, we would salute a break on our rates. We would even stand at attention and place our hands over our hearts for such a miracle.