Posts Tagged ‘COVID-19 virus’

From TSA to small business lending, emergency regs often make the next emergency worse

My new piece at the Washington Examiner examines how government responses to the last crisis impede response to the next one. The post-9/11 TSA checkpoint system, for example, “is now the one point in air travel where a virus-fearing traveler is least able to avoid prolonged physical or face-to-face contact with a stranger, as well as the… commingling of high-touch personal items on communal trays.” With the COVID-19 crisis, the old rules requiring banks to report “suspicious” transactions are causing all sorts of problems as ordinary customers radically change their banking habits. Worse, “Know Your Customer” regs rationalized on anti-terrorism grounds have become a bottleneck to processing thousands of applications for short-term funds from small businesses not previously known to the bank. Verifying KYC information on a small business, even if it’s got access to all its files, can take a month. Who’s supposed to wait that long amid today’s crisis? (more from colleague Diego Zuluaga on the rules’ failings)

I conclude: of the many good reasons for deregulation, one “is that it bolsters resilience when systems [like banks] are asked to cope with complex new perils.”

Labor and employment roundup

Auto insurance refunds? California’s Prop 103 may turn out to ban them

We’ve written before about the political genesis of California’s Proposition 103, a remarkably onerous and unreasonable set of controls on the insurance business:

After insurance companies were so rash as to support efforts to obtain liability reform through the initiative process, trial lawyers struck back in 1988 with the rate-slashing Proposition 103, which inflicted huge losses on the industry.

Now, in the wake of drastic declines in miles driven as a result of the COVID-19 emergency, many of the biggest national auto insurers have announced voluntary programs to refund a portion of premiums to motorists, as a goodwill gesture reflecting in part the expectation that claims payouts will be much lower than anticipated. Those checks will come in handy for consumers in most states, but there’s a problem in California: any refunds, even those voluntarily embraced by insurers, appear to violate the terms of Prop 103. Ray Lehmann explains at Insurance Journal. He concludes:

The result is absurd. It’s a bug in the text. But because it was passed by the people of California as a ballot proposition, these sorts of bugs can’t simply be fixed by the Legislature. Any changes to the law require two-thirds majorities in both chambers, and even then, they must be found to “substantially further” the goal of the proposition.

It is yet another example of ways that the structures of Prop 103, well-intended though they may be, have come to be a straitjacket on both insurers and their customers.

In other insurance news, a few days ago I wrote about business-interruption insurance, blasting interest groups that want insurers to have to pay out despite policy exclusions. Now President Donald Trump has weighed in about how businesses supposedly should be able to recover losses for pandemic interruption, policy language or no.

He’s wrong. As I wrote Monday. “This category of risk has been widely grasped for many years… pandemic-related business interruption coverage [was] neither promised nor paid for at the time.” Seven Republican Senators, including Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) have signed a well-informed letter opposing the idea.

Yes, the situation is tough on a dozen business sectors, starting with restaurants and travel. But there’s no way they should be allowed to raid insurance coffers of reserves needed to pay countless other claims whose coverage *was* promised and paid for in premiums. And if we let them get away with that kind of raid, no insurer will ever be able to count on the language of a contract again. Guess what’ll happen to rates when they realize they need to cover that kind of unpredictable future risk?

A panel on the Constitution, and a second pandemic notebook installment

You can watch yesterday’s Cato online panel on COVID-19 and the Constitution with Ilya Shapiro, Trevor Burrus, and me.

Also at Cato, my latest Pandemics and Power notebook is on NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s scheme to draft health care professionals nationwide, feds’ seizures of medical equipment, any excuse to ban vaping, and a scene from the life of a great vaccinologist. And while we’re at it, here’s Deirdre McCloskey with some relevant thoughts: “Coronavirus must not rob us of our liberties forever.”

Banking and finance roundup

  • “Comparing the 2008 financial crisis to the COVID-19 market upheaval” [Stephen Bainbridge, with chart]
  • Fed has tried getting involved directly in smaller business lending before, and it hasn’t worked out well [George Selgin] “Evaluating Federal Reserve Moves amid Coronavirus Outbreak” [Cato Daily Podcast with George Selgin and Caleb Brown]
  • Liquidity for you, liquidity for me, but Washington crisis response might have overlooked liquidity for mortgage servicers [Diego Zuluaga, Cato]
  • “Coronavirus: An Update on Securities Suits and on Updating Company Disclosures” [Priya Cherian Huskins via Kevin LaCroix] “There are likely many more securities lawsuits to come.” [Jim Sams, Insurance Journal]
  • The flimsy critique of stock buybacks: “Would United be worse off if it had spent $3 billion on dividends instead of buybacks? In each case, United has $3 billion less, and shareholders have $3 billion more that they can invest in something else” [Ted Frank, Washington Examiner]
  • From before the crisis: George Selgin on Warren Mosler and the great American banking myth; Kevin LaCroix on mootness fees in securities class actions; James Pethokoukis on CEO pay; Diego Zuluaga on bank concentration; Jeffrey Miron on bank bailouts (“It is hard to think of [a solution] so long as people believe government can magically make bank lending safe.”)

Election law in a pandemic

Ballotpedia ran a mini-symposium on the strain placed on election law and procedure by the COVID-19 virus. An excerpt from my short contribution:

Whatever your previous thinking on absentee and vote-by-mail procedures, minimizing the need for in-person voting is now the need of the hour. Every vote cast by mail is one that doesn’t add to waiting lines (already a headache even before social distancing) and the need for interaction at sign-in tables.

COVID-19 pandemic roundup

Insurance that was written to cover pandemics, and insurance that wasn’t

What’s the worst single insurance-law idea you could bring to bear on the COVID-19 outbreak? How about passing a law to require insurers to cover pandemic-related business interruption even if their policies explicitly named and excluded coverage of that risk? My new post at Cato criticizes bills afoot in the Ohio, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and New York legislatures: “The fact that this category of risk has been widely grasped for many years is among the reasons why state legislatures should absolutely not be permitted to enact legislation retroactively rewriting insurance contracts to mandate pandemic-related business interruption coverage neither promised nor paid for at the time.”

Constitutional law roundup