Homeland Security officials in the Bush administration are considering ways to use the insurance industry as a free-market-friendly vehicle to drive chemical facilities, food companies, utilities, and other businesses to take greater precautions against terrorist attacks without heavy-handed new regulations.When one part of the free market fails to take responsible action another part steps in to force it. The business still does not have to do anything, but if it fails to do what is required its insurance premiums will go up or it will operate with out insurance, which would tend to concentrate the mind on what the risks are.
The concept of using insurance to spur companies to spend on counterterrorism measures may solve a vexing homeland security problem: Despite improvements the government has made to upgrade security at public facilities since the 2001 Al Qaeda attacks, 85 percent of American infrastructure is privately owned and underprotected.
Any attack on chemical, ground transportation, banking, food, energy, or utility sectors could cause massive destruction and cripple the economy. But companies have lobbied hard to defeat legislation to force them to upgrade their security practices, finding allies among free-market Republicans in Congress.
Proponents hope the insurance proposal will be a sweeping solution to the impasse. The basic idea would be to have the government or each industry develop a minimum set of security "best practices." Then, insurers would audit companies for compliance with those standards, with the power to reduce premiums for those who comply.