Caley Horan

Sep 21, 2021

Insurance Era

Risk, Governance, and the Privatization of Security in Postwar America

University of Chicago Press 2021

Actuarial thinking is everywhere in contemporary America, an often unnoticed byproduct of the postwar insurance industry’s political and economic influence. Calculations of risk permeate our institutions, influencing how we understand and manage crime, education, medicine, finance, and other social issues. In Insurance Era: Risk, Governance, and the Privatization of Security in Postwar America (The University of Chicago Press, 2021), Caley Horan charts the social and economic power of private insurers since 1945, arguing that these institutions’ actuarial practices played a crucial and unexplored role in insinuating the social, political, and economic frameworks of neoliberalism into everyday life.

Through a careful analysis of insurance marketing, consumption, investment, and regulation, Horan asserts that postwar America’s obsession with safety and security fueled the exponential expansion of the insurance industry and the growing importance of risk management in other fields. Horan shows that the rise and dissemination of neoliberal values did not happen on its own: they were the result of a project to unsocialize risk, shrinking the state’s commitment to providing support, and heaping burdens upon the people often least capable of bearing them.

Caley Horan is Associate Professor of History at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Ashton Merck is a Postdoctoral Research Scholar in Interdisciplinary Risk Sciences at NC State University. She can be found on Twitter @awmerck.

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