The vice of gambling and the virtue of insurance


 The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that’s the essence of inhumanity. — Shaw

In his essay “The vice of gambling and the virtue of insurance,” author George Bernard Shaw discusses insurance from the perspective of his day. After explaining the virtue of insurance he goes on to show that public financing of insurance is a good thing. He writes:

And when the business of insurance is taken on by the state and lumped into the general taxation account, every citizen will be born with an unwritten policy of insurance against all the common risks, and be spared the painful virtues of providence, prudence, and self-denial that are now so oppressive and demoralizing, thus greatly lightening the burden of middle-class morality. The citizens will be protected, whether they like it or not, just as their children are now educated and their houses now guarded by the police whether they like it or not, even when they have no children to be educated nor houses to be guarded. The gain in freedom from petty cares will be immense. Our minds will no longer be crammed and our time wasted by uncertainty as to whether there will be any dinners for the family next week or any money left to pay for our funerals when we die.

Shaw then continues with a discussion of the British politics of his time:

Yet, as I write, a modest and well thought-out plan of national insurance by Sir William Beveridge (1879-1963), whose eminence as an authority on political science nobody questions, is being fiercely opposed, not only by the private insurance companies which it would supersede, but by people whom it would benefit; and its advocates mostly do not understand it and do not know how to defend it. If the schooling of our legislators  had included a grounding in  the principles of insurance, the Beveridge scheme would pass into law and be set in operation within a month. As it is, if some mutilated remains of it survive after years of ignorant squabbling we shall be lucky …

Shaw’s observations ring true today.

© William Hungerford – April 2014

The vice of gambling and the virtue of insurance” was published in Shaw’s “Everybody’s Political What’s What,” London, Constable & Co. 1944

It was reprinted in James R. Newman “The World of Mathematics, Vol III,” New York, Simon and Schuter, 1956

You can read Shaw’s essay on-line here:


About whungerford

* Contributor at where we discuss the politics, economics, and events of the New New York 23rd Congressional District (Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Chemung, (Eastern) Ontario, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben,Tioga, Tompkins, and Yates Counties) Please visit and comment on whatever strikes your fancy.
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11 Responses to The vice of gambling and the virtue of insurance

  1. Deb Meeker says:

    Shaw’s words “The citizens will be protected, whether they like it or not, just as their children are now educated and their houses now guarded by the police whether they like it or not,…” would make today’s Republicans and Libertarians apoplectic . Those words would be all the ammunition they needed to dismiss Shaw’s meaningful insights.


  2. whungerford says:

    It is certainly astonishing that we might replace public education with for-profit schools and dispense with police in favor of guns everywhere.


  3. Anne says:

    Plus ça change….


  4. BOB McGILL says:

    Had William Beveridge and Shaw lived at a time, to witness the failures of socialism and communism, perhaps they would have had a different perspective. This part is laughable,
    ” greatly lightening the burden of middle-class morality “, he seems to think a society with less morals would be a good thing. May I ask, why would you even consider comparing British society of 60 or 70 years ago to American society today ? One could hardly think of Britsih society as a success or something that we should strive to emulate.


  5. whungerford says:

    In his introduction to Shaw’s essay, James R. Newman explains that Shaw blamed his limited knowledge of Mathematics on the “wretched instruction” he received in school. Newman quotes Shaw: “… I rejected algebra as nonsense and never changed that opinion until in my advanced twenties Graham Wallas and Karl Pearson convinced me that instead of being taught mathematics I had been made a fool of.” …. plus c’est la même chose.


  6. whungerford says:

    The National Health Service began in Britain in 1948, Sixty-two years passed before Obamacare was signed into law in the USA–we are 62 years behind Britain.

    Impoverished, sick and malnourished children going to be hungry is the burden on on middle-class morality that Shaw had in mind, which universal insurance helps alleviate.


  7. BOB McGILL says:

    Economist John Lott studied FBI crime statistics from 1977 to 1993. In his 1998 book, More Guns, Less Crime, Lott said that the passage of concealed carry laws resulted in a murder rate decrease of 8.5%, rape rate decrease of 5%, and aggravated assault reduction of 7%. He said that his analysis of crime report data showed a statistically significant effect of concealed carry laws on crime
    According to the FBI, during the first year of the Obama administration the national murder rate declined by 7.4% along with other categories of crime which fell by significant percentages.[110] During that same time national gun sales increased dramatically. According to Lott, 450,000 more people bought guns in November 2008 than in November 2007, representing a 40% increase in sales, a trend that continued throughout 2009.[109] The drop in the murder rate was the biggest one-year drop since 1999, another year when gun sales soared in the wake of increased calls for gun control as a result of the Columbine shooting.


  8. BOB McGILL says:

    Impoverished, sick and malnourished children going to be hungry ? where are they ? You forgot, with $200.00 sneakers,designer jeans,cell phone, smoking pot on heroin, eating junk food.…/happy-birthday-to-great-britains-increasingly-scandalous -national-health-service/‎CachedSimilar
    Jul 5, 2013 … I offer a doctor’s perspective on health care systems. … in Britain’s health care, the
    problems of the NHS are severe, notorious, and increasingly


  9. BOB McGILL says:‎CachedSimilar
    May 9, 2013 … A UK health and social care watchdog has warned that the country’s healthcare
    system is on the brink of collapse, and that many patients … 20 percent of the total
    in the UK – which had serious problems dating back five years, …


  10. I couldn’t refrain from commenting. Very well written!


  11. Pingback: Insurance, a common misunderstanding | New NY 23rd

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