America’s Little Insurance Problem – 1940 – The Fleece Factor And Morris H. Siegel. Past Daily Reference Room
Insurance – an integral and inescapable part of our national fabric; the thing that hounds us, protects us and promises us. The thing most abused, exploited and feared.
Because we are a society pretty much based on fear, the notion of being “left unprotected” is something we’ve been exposed to practically from birth – coupled with the Insurance Company’s promise of peace-of-mind with a side-attraction of “making a killing” has always been a motivation to sometimes dive in where caution would have saved a lot of grief.
In the 1930s, with Depression-era America in the grips of sudden and irrevocable poverty, fear gave way to desperation and despite many Insurance companies being legitimate, an increasing number of unscrupulous ones flourished, capitalizing on fear, taking advantage of gullibility and playing on “get rich quick” schemes to fleece unsuspecting customers.
Morris H. Siegel, along with this brother Samuel had The Policyholders Advisory Council, a watchdog group whose mission was to bust corruption within the Insurance industry during the 1930s into the early 1940s.
Morris Siegel did several broadcasts from local New York stations, advising listeners on shady dealings within the Insurance world, but also offering counseling advice to clients who were victim to some of these schemes. It wasn’t entirely clear where his money was coming from – doing research on the Siegels didn’t yield a lot of results, other than Morris Siegel being sued by a former client for charging excessive fees and filing for bankruptcy in 1943 which listed several of those local New York radio stations as creditors.
So it’s not entirely clear if the Siegels were successful or not in doing battle with Big Insurance, but it did illustrate an issue that has been with us, even today; the Insurance lobby in the U.S. is huge. It dictates the terms of conversation on matters of health, our driving and where we live. In the 1930s it was open season and we were vulnerable. It was also made apparent that one of the biggest targets by these clandestine Insurance companies was the immigrant population who were, in 1940 fleeing Europe to seek safe-haven in America.
To get an idea of the climate of depression-era America and the potential corruption that walked the streets and neighborhoods of New York, here is a broadcast from WINS radio on March 3, 1940 with a talk by Morris Siegel of The Policyholders Advisory Council.