Let’s say a pastor in Nigeria was sitting opposite the widow of his pastor colleague, who is telling him about how hard life has become since her husband passed on. He is moved with compassion and vows to do something about it. What is the minister most likely to do?
He will probably bring her to service the next Sunday and preach a powerful message about giving. He will appeal to the religious belief of his congregation and many will be moved to give. And then he will raise an offering for her. Essentially, the pastor resorts to faith and appeal to the faith of others and perhaps his own to meet the need.
In 1744, when faced with a similar problem, two Scottish ministers, Alexander Webster and Robert Wallace did just that. But they also decided to do something else. Rather than depend on faith and the goodwill of their congregation like good Christian gentlemen, they decided to get knowledge from the blossoming field of actuarial science and probability to calculate how much each minister would need to contribute annually from their salaries and essentially created the first life insurance scheme. What’s more, that life insurance fund has lasted until this day and has grown to over One Hundred Billion British Pounds and employs over 3,500 people.
Any society that faces new problems by appealing to faith and dogma will solve immediate problems, but a few things will characterise the solutions they create.
First, it will never really scale. The immediate problem of one widow might be solved, but many more widows will remain unreached and even the same widow cannot be guaranteed an income for subsequent needs
Second, it will be open to discretion and by extension abuse.
Third, it will never really last. You cannot build 100Billion Pound almost 300Year old stuff without some logic and science behind it. This is probably one of the reasons we are unable to amplify value in my part of the world.
I’m reading Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari and these thoughts came from it. Read the excerpt below and if you can, buy the book.
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