Essay 32: Movies Novels and Songs as an “Open University”

This essay is a continuation of the previous one and will show you how a novel gives you a backdoor or side window into education.

The novel Howards End (1910) by E.M. Forster has two foci that it orbits, in a kind of ellipse, like a planet. One focus is social mores of different strata of society, the buccaneering money families (Wilcoxes), the artistic and culture (based on inheritances such as the Schlegels) and the “people of the abyss,” the marginal insurance clerk Leonard Bast. The other focus is money and wealth.

Henry Wilcox warns the Schlegel sisters (Margaret and Helen) that the insurance company, the Porphyrion Fire insurance Company their new friend (the poor clerk Leonard Bast) works for might go bankrupt or “smash” in British lingo:

“The Porphyrion’s a bad, bad concern.—Now don’t say I said so. It’s outside the Tariff Ring.”

“I thought an insurance company never smashed,” was Helen’s contribution. “Don’t the others always run in and save them?”

“You’re thinking of re-insurance,” said Mr. Wilcox mildly. “It is exactly there that the Porphyrion is weak. It has tried to undercut, has been badly hit by a long series  of small fires, and it hasn’t been able to reinsure. I’m afraid that public companies don’t save one another for love.”

This advice turns out to be fear-mongering and Leonard Bast quits his job at the Porphyrion and can’t find new work and is desperate since he’s part of the ‘people of the abyss.’”

Later on Henry Wilcox (Anthony Hopkins in the film) reverse himself and says that now the Porphyrion is ‘safe as houses.’”

The Tariff Ring referred to above has nothing to do with the tariffs we think of in 2020, duties on Chinese or Canadian or European goods.

The Tariff Ring refers to a consortium of insurance companies which agree not to undersell each other. You can think of this as price-fixing if you like or perhaps as price-stabilization whereby the insurance companies are creating “reinsurance” by these means of dealing with one another in this block or consortium.

The Tariff refers to the price of the policy, the rate, the premium, to carry the insurance. The word tariff has several meanings and one must not confuse these tariffs (cost of insurance policy for the insured) with import duties, whether for protectionist or revenue motives.

A current leading global practitioner of modern reinsurance is Munich RE. You should go to their website and use this essay as a way to link to this whole world of insurance and reinsurance.

This shows you how a novel or movie serves as an “open university” if you get into this flexibly “circum-spective” frame of mind (i.e., real and deep learning without “silos”).