I live close to my office in Los Angeles but on occasion have to drive down to Orange County, which is a task I truly abhor as it causes me to deal with some of the worst traffic and worst drivers in these two rather different parts of Southern California. Yesterday, I had to do so but I did get to listen to some very good NPR discussions as to how Proposition 103 might lower my insurance rates. The debate raised several questions in my mind and the good news is that Mark Thoma treats us to an article from the Los Angeles Times and his own thoughts:
If the market is competitive and rates are already set to price risk efficiently, and geography plays a significant role in the risk assessment, then complying with Proposition 103 would move away from the efficient outcome unless it corrects a market failure … The part people find objectionable, I think, is that their rates are linked to factors outside of their immediate control. Where you live, not your individual skills as a driver determine your rates. In big cities there is a congestion externality, and that extra congestion increases the chances of an accident which makes gathering the contact information of a car accident lawyer ahead of time worthwhile. There are also other factors such as how often cars get stolen that play a role in pricing geographic locations as well. Again, assuming people take appropriate precautions, this is outside of their individual control.
But I choose to live close to work, have a stellar driving record, and have not had my car stolen. So why do I pay high insurance premiums? Am I underestimating the expected cost to my insurance company or is there some form of asymmetric information problem where my insurance company does not understand what I low risk my driving habits represent? Or could the NPR discussion that implied that there is an element of market power at play here be part of the story?