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FIRE INSURANCE]
661
INSURANCE


Spectator Company's Year-Book, more than half of the cash premiums of mutual insurance companies are collected in the two manufacturing states of Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

It is, after all, only within a very limited field that the mutual principle can be adopted. The essential principle of fire insurance is the distribution of loss. It does not aim, directly at least, at the prevention and only in a secondary way even at the minimizing of loss; but what it seeks to accomplish is that such losses shall not fall exclusively, and possibly with overwhelming effect, on the owner of the property destroyed, but shall be borne in easy proportions by a large number of persons who are all alike exposed to the risk of a similar catastrophe. To work out the equitable solution of such a problem an amount of technical skill and extended experience is required which few bodies or communities possess. Certainly, experience in Great Britain has shown that the one system of fire insurance which has contributed most to the public benefit is that which is conducted by joint-stock companies, odering to the insured the guarantee of their capital and other funds, and looking to make a profit by the business. In France, Belgium, Holland, Russia and Norway, also, the joint-stock plan is almost exclusively employed. Such an opinion must be qualified by observing that, under the fostering influence of the national and municipal governments, the mutual plan has reached an important development in Austria-Hungary, Germany, Switzerland and Sweden. In all these countries, indeed, corporate enterprise on a large scale, in every branch of business, is of comparatively late growth, and mutual fire insurance was a familiar practice long before joint-stock companies entered upon this field of activity. The tendency in the large cities and commercial centres is to throw new insurances into the business corporations, while the time-honoured mutual associations retain their standard character and customary client age. But in these countries the mutual plan has an established place in the confidence of the rural population, who are generally strongly prejudiced against moneyed corporations. This is especially true of the cantons in Switzerland an certain districts in Austria-Hungary, where fire insurance is administered by the local governments in connexion with a minute police supervision of the construction of buildings and of other conditions affecting the risk. From the published returns of the companies and the authorities, as collected for the Post Magazine Almanack (1900), it would appear that of all the fire insurance premiums paid in Switzerland nearly 54% is collected by the mutual associations and the cantona authorities; while in Italy 37 25, in Germany 27 %, in Sweden 27% and in the Austro-Hungarian monarchy 2O YQ, go to mutual companies.

The earliest plan of insurance which was successful as a business was that practised at Lloyd's Coffee-house (see LLOYD, S) LI, in London, and there applied almost exclusively to oyd s., ,

marine risks. Although the association known as Lloyd's has been for generations a strong financial institution, with every modern safeguard, and since 1871 has been a chartered corporation with large funds, yet its name has become accepted as the symbol of the primitive practice of combined underwriting by individuals, each upon his own credit, for a share of the risk and without common liability.

A few associations on this general principle were known to exist in America, and to issue fire policies on a small scale, before 1892, but chiefly for mutual insurance. In that year, in a general revision of the insurance law of New York, such associations alread in existence were expressly exempted from all its provisions. Slpeculators at once discerned an opportunity. If a company by omitting to take corporate form could carry on the business free from all restrictions and burden of state supervision, it would compete at great advantage with the insurance corporations. While the new law was in prospect there was time to take action; and upon its passage there suddenly appeared a multitude of “ organizations " claiming the exemption as Lloyd's, or associations of individual underwriters, and offering fire policies at rates materially lower than those of the joint-stock companies. Each of these was represented and managed by an attorney for the subscribers, supposed to have power to bind them severally to the amount of their subscriptions. l'he standard policy prescribed by law in New York was issued, with a clause making the iability several only, and fixing the amount. The Lloyd's entered the market with the zeal and prestige of a new idea and a great name, and they grew rapidly in number and in business, but made no reports. Extending their agencies into other states, they occasioned much litigation concerning their legal existence and rights and some rash and inharmonious legislation. But several attempts to establish similar Lloyd's in other places failed. Experience soon showed that it was impossible to enforce claims in the courts, when the liability was distributed among many, without excessive expense and delay, even when all the subscribers were solvent, while a few good names, however useful in canvassing, were no guarantee of the responsibility of unknown associates. In 1896 the executive and legal authorities of New York assumed a hostile attitude towards speculative schemes of this class, and indictments were found against a number of romoters for falsely antedating constituent agreements. The bubble burst suddenly, and within three years more than one hundred of the Lloyd's disappeared. A few re insured their risks or were merged in permanent companies, but the mass of them proved to have no substance. Four or five only of the best Lloyd s continue to issue fire policies within a narrow and special circle, but as a group they no longer compete for 'general business.

The rate of premium varies with the supposed risk, but certain descriptions of property are specially and more elaborately rated. This has been done to a considerable extent by common agreement amongst the offices, and the arrangements are known as the “ tariff system, ” which requires here a few words of explanation.

We may suppose the question to arise, What ought to be paid for insuring a cotton-mill, or a flax or woollen mill, or a weaving factory, or a wharf or warehouse in some large city? The experience of any one' office scarcely affords adequate data, and a rate based on the combined experience of many offices has a greater chance of being at once safe and fair. The problem, indeed, is a more complicated one than what has been already said would indicate. The property to be insured may consist of several distinct buildings and the contents of them: one building may be devoted to operations involving in a high degree the risk of fire; in another the processes carried on may be more simple and safe; a third may be used only for the storage of materials having little tendency to burn. Fairly to measure these various hazards it has been found necessary that the experience and skill at the command of many companies shall be combined, and that the rates shall be the result of consultation and a common understanding.

Now it is clear that no ohice will contribute its skill and experience to such a common stock if the effect is to be that other offices may avail themselves of the information in order to undersell it. Consultation about rates and a common understanding necessarily involve a reciprocal obligation to charge not less than the rates thus agreed on; in other words, a tariff of rates is developed to which each office binds itself to adhere. The system tends to restrain and moderate the competition for business which inevitably and to some extent properly exists among the companies, and its value to them is manifest. But it is also of service to the insuring public. At first sight it might seem that free competition would suit the public best, and that a combination among the offices must tend to keep up rates, and to secure for the companies excessive profits, but a little consideration will show that this is a mistake. It is an unquestionable truth, though one often lost sight of, that all losses by fire must ultimately be borne by the public. The insurance companies are the machinery for distributing these losses, nothing more. If the losses fell on them, their funds, large as they are, would speedily be exhausted, and the service which they render to the public would come to an end. To those who require insurance against loss by fire it must be a manifest advantage that they should have many sound and prosperous offices ready to accept their business, and no less able than desirous to earn or to retain the public favour by fair and liberal conduct. A necessary condition of this state of things is that the rates of premium paid for insurance should be remunerative to the offices, and the main object of the tariff system is to secure such remunerative rates.

This it endeavours to do by two methods-by an agreement as to what rates are to be charged, and by aiiixing such a penalty to dangerous constructions, substances and processes as to induce, if possible, a lessening of the danger. In other words, and reversing the order, it seeks to diminish the risk of Ere, and to secure adequate payment for what risk remains. On the supposition that the oihces are correct in their estimate or risks, the effect, and indeed the intention, of their rule is not so much

to put money into their own coffers as to lessen the danger, and