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The Truncated Commercialization of Microinsurance and the Limits of Neoliberalism

Nick Bernards

Development and Change, 2018, vol. 49, issue 6, 1447-1470

Abstract: Microinsurance — defined as low‐cost insurance products targeting low‐income populations — exemplifies key themes in contemporary neoliberalism, and has figured prominently in neoliberalism's turn to discourses such as ‘risk management’ and ‘financial inclusion’. The development of commercial markets for microinsurance, however, has in practice been highly variable and often very limited. This article considers the implications of this process of ‘truncated commercialization’. It draws on a Polanyian analytical framework that emphasizes the contradictory regulatory dynamics involved in the commodification of labour. The article applies this approach by tracing multiscalar efforts to promote microinsurance, examining the emergence of the concept in the efforts of the International Labour Organization to promote social security for informal workers in the 1980s and 1990s, looking at the adoption of explicitly commercializing imperatives in the work of the International Association of Insurance Supervisors in the 2000s, and, finally, considering a case study of South Africa. The truncated commercialization of microinsurance, it is argued, provides a useful lens through which to see the practical impossibility of neoliberal development strategies.

Date: 2018
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