We argue that changes in the life insurance industry have created a nontrivial moral hazard. We document the industry's shift from sales of life insurance to sales of mainly rate-of-return oriented investments like single premium deferred annuities (SPDAs) and guaranteed investment contracts (GICs). We describe the system of explicit and implicit guarantees that state governments and the industry provide to SPDA and GIC investors. We argue that these guarantees create moral hazards that have contributed to insurance company failures and misallocation of resources. We summarize reformers' proposals to enhance both the explicit guarantees and the regulation of insurance companies and argue that maintaining the degree of regulatory tightness required for such proposals to succeed will be difficult. We suggest an alternative: eliminate guarantees of SPDAs, GICs, and similar products (and possibly promote full disclosure practices and earmarked investments like variable annuities).
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