One of the indelible scenes in literature, and one aided immeasurably by George Cruikshank’s illustration, is of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist in the workhouse going up to the stern man serving the gruel with the unprecedented request, ‘Please, sir, I want some more.’  

I know it is in another era and seemingly unconnected, but I can’t help but think that those insurers who said they are going to accept TARP funds from the U.S. are going to be portrayed as some kind of modern twist on dear young Oliver.

Yes, they’re the ones who are in the poorhouse, going hat in hand to the fat, censorious master asking for ‘more.’  At least that’s how they are likely to be portrayed by the competition.

A while back we ran a poll question on our terrific new website (www.lifeandhealthinsurancenews.com, which you really need to visit if you haven’t), and the results were interesting, although by no means scientifically valid.

The question was: Will competitors try to attach a stigma to those insurers who accept TARP bailout funds from the U.S. government?

Five times as many respondents answered ‘yes’ to that question as those who answered ‘no.’  A blowout, in other words.

This tells you a few things.  First, even though it is not kosher (and is probably illegal) to badmouth your competition, people are going to do it anyway. 

It also tells you why some insurers who initially expressed interest in TARP funds, thought the better of it and said, “Thanks, but no thanks.”  This sends a message that quite effectively erases their previously expressed interest.

Of course, those insurers who are going to accept TARP funds will say they’re taking the money simply to become even stronger, not out of some kind of Oliver Twist-type dire need.  They’ll also remind people that Oliver eventually ends up leading a happy, peaceful life in the country.

The happy ending is true of the book.  But I have to say that I had to remind myself of what eventually did happen to Oliver.  The scene in the workhouse, however, took no referring back to the book.  I’ve never forgotten it.  And neither, to be sure, have millions of others.