In the course of a year events occur and issues arise that are worthy of comment but not enough for a full treatment. Therefore, I like to use this first column of the new year to make brief observations regarding such issues.
Most laughable event of the year. Steve Piontek’s column in the Aug. 8 issue of National Underwriter delivered a very pointed and well-deserved barb at Robert Hunter, insurance spokesman for the Consumer Federation of America and perennial insurance gadfly. The column was critical of Hunter’s longstanding anti-insurance stance and ended by stating, “He should just shut up.”
The laughable part was Hunter’s response, which was printed in the Sept. 5 issue of NU. In responding to the charge that he always took positions contrary to the insurance industry, Hunter said, “That is simply untrue. I actually agree with most of what the industry does. My silence frequently means agreement.”
Silence is not always golden, however. Mr. Hunter should not “hide his light under a bushel.” If something is 95% good and 5% bad and all you ever hear about is the 5%, then it takes on the appearance of being all bad. Everyone has a right to be heard, but you have to earn the right to be taken seriously. Consumers need to hear positive news as well as the negative, and Hunter could improve his credibility if he would break his “silence” more often.
Most worrisome issue of the year. Our tax code is probably the No. 1 whipping boy around and the urge to “reform it” periodically seems to be irresistible. The last time we had a major reform, the primary result was the failure of a large number of our savings and loan institutions. The cost of that debacle was in the billions of dollars and was, of course, eventually borne by taxpayers.
Provisions in some of the proposals now being offered could do great harm to products sold by the life insurance business for more than 125 years. Permanent cash value life insurance has served well the long-term interests of the public and the broader interests of society. Reform proposals would encourage alternatives ill-suited to the long-term savings needs of most people.
When will we finally acknowledge that our tax code is complicated because we have a complex society with numerous essential objectives to be encouraged? Home ownership, charitable giving, retirement plans, health insurance programs and investment are but a few of those objectives that have been stimulated by the present code. It may not be perfect–but it is better than the alternatives being considered.