Zombification Insurance

Excerpt from Chapter 9, by Eleanor Brown and Robert Prag

Insurance rarely appears in tales of the zombie apocalypse. None of those people running screaming through the streets in World War Z are looking for their claims adjusters. The ravaged cities of Return of the Living Dead or Resident Evil 3 do not call for insurance markets; they call for the military, or for Jill Valentine.

Insurance is at its most useful in a stable world sprinkled with small chances of isolated calamities that loom large for individuals—an expensive hospital stay or the death of a breadwinner—but not for whole populations. If everybody buys hospital insurance and only a few are hospitalized in any given year, nobody has to pay very much for hospital insurance, and nobody faces the bankrupting prospect of huge hospital bills. People don’t have to worry about how they might pay a big bill; that risk has been transferred to the insurance provider. Insurance companies pool lots of relatively small premiums in order to make a few relatively large payouts. If the insurers can count on the proportion of the population being hospitalized to be pretty stable, or at least predictable, year to year, then they can charge premiums that allow them to pay the claims that arise. This is the genius of insurance: by bringing together lots of people with small chances of isolated calamities, total risk is reduced as some people’s good luck offsets other people’s bad luck.

In a full-blown zombie apocalypse, then, anybody who wants to run screaming through the streets in search of her claims adjuster should be heading for the courthouse where the insurers are filing their bankruptcy papers. Apocalypse is not the stuff of insurance markets, or at least not the simple, risk-pooling kind that depend on a lot of people having good luck while a few others are being eaten. When everyone has bad luck, insurance does not work.

To discuss zombification insurance, then, we must tear ourselves away from our movies and video games and plant ourselves firmly in the real world, in which zombies are unlikely to get out of control. Because of the widespread influence of the media’s overheated imaginings and because scientific progress in understanding the mechanisms of infection and reanimation has been slow, we begin by stating clearly the mundane circumstances in which we expect the market for zombification insurance to develop. As with earlier scourges such as polio and tuberculosis, we imagine a world in which public health is attentive to the rare but serious outbreak; we assume the zombie population to be small, approximately stable, and beyond our powers of eradication.2 We rely on The Zombie Survival Guide’s authoritative depiction of the process of viral infection, human death, and reanimation. In this view, an otherwise healthy but newly infected person has about twenty-one hours before losing a pulse and another three hours or so before reanimation. For persons who have purchased zombification insurance and survived a zombie encounter, this day of decline represents the first opportunity to collect on their insurance coverage.

2. For more on the circumstances in which such a “stalemate” might occur, see Kyle William Bishop, David Tufte, and Mary Jo Tufte’s “What Happens Next? Endgames of a Zombie Apocalypse” in this volume.

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