Economics and similar, for the sleep-deprived

A subtle change has been made to the comments links, so they no longer pop up. Does this in any way help with the problem about comments not appearing on permalinked posts, readers?

Update: seemingly not

Update: Oh yeah!


Wednesday, February 28, 2007

 
Irregular Secret Society Blogging - The Supreme Tribe of Ben-Hur

"The Supreme Tribe of Ben-Hur" sounds like it might be quite an interesting and racy organisation - perhaps one of the Jewish-American crime syndicates that caused so much trouble in turn-of-the-century New York, or the paramilitary wing of "Jews for Jesus" or something. In fact, while fascinating in its own way, the STB-H was rather more prosaic in nature; it was basically a life assurance company.

It was founded in 1880, which was close to the high point of the fraternal society boom in the USA. It's interesting to me because it was actually a spin-off deal; the novel "Ben-Hur" by Lew Wallace had recently become a hit, and although the licensing industry was in its infancy, American capitalism was already far enough advanced for a couple of promoters to buy the secret society rights to the novel from its author.

Weird huh? It's one of the little ephemera of 19th century finance that there were such things as "secret society promoters" in the USA at this time. Recall that there was no Social Security at the time, and certainly no welfare state. The USA had also not really developed any equivalent of the Equitable Life Assurance Society or the Scottish mutual societies. There were a few life assurance firms, but they did not have much presence in the West and tended to be quite up-market in terms of the clientele they served.

Instead, life assurance for the working man was typically provided by fraternal organisations. The Odd Fellows (descendants of the journeymen's organisations which succeeded the medieval guilds early in the development of capitalism) were the biggest fraternal benefit society, but there were lots of others, often organised on industry or similar lines - the Elks, Eagles, etc.

These fraternal organisations provided benefits to their members - basically, everyone paid a monthly subscription and the society then paid sickness and death benefits on behalf of all. They tended to founder somewhat because they didn't make sufficient use of actuarial science to calibrate the benefits (and of course, they were terribly vulnerable to the effects of an aging membership, which is why so many of them no longer exist), but in their early days at least, they provided a useful service.

The secret society aspect came in partly in order to exclude non-members from gaining benefits, and partly because this sort of thing was very fashionable in the USA at the time. There was a general fascination with rituals and secret societies, and a really well-written set of initiation rites, or a unique selling point like an association with a popular novel, could really give a boost to a fraternal benefit organisation. Going into the twentieth century, many of them set up proper life assurance companies to handle the financial side, but kept the secret society aspect going alongside. (here's a description of the initiation ritual of what was by then called the "Ben Hur Life Association". Note the number of patriotic loyalty oaths - these were also very standard for American secret societies of the period)

And so it was that the Supreme Tribe of Ben-Hur came into being - they were strongest in Indiana, which was one of the most secret-society-joining states of the Union (at one point, 25% of all adult males in Indiana were members of the Ku Klux Klan!). They never really made much of a mark on history, other than in the Supreme Court case of STB-H vs Cauble, which established an important point about federal jurisdiction in class action lawsuits, and a rather nice building in Crawfordsville, Indiana. The society struggled on and might still be in existence today, though its life company changed its name to "USA Life Insurance" in 1988 and became a commercial company. But they never did anyone any harm as far as I can see and I have something of an affection for their slightly odd story.

Secret Society Trivia Quiz!: Whose ancient mystic secrets did the "Ancient Mystic Order of the Bagmen of Bagdad" swear to preserve, and why is it so hilarious that they vowed to never defile the chastity of womanhood?
10 comments this item posted by the management 2/28/2007 06:42:00 AM


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?




Links:

Bitch : Lab
Aaronovitch Watch
Balkanalysis
Perfect.co.uk
Maxspeak
Brad Delong
The Robert Vienneau blog

Political and philosophical heroes

Subcomandante Marcos
Will Rogers
Boris Vian
The English Svejk

RSS Feed:
This seems to matter to a lot of people

If you liked this "Daniel Davies" website, you might be interested in

"Danux", the web developer
The martial artist (and fan of extremely annoying Flash intros) from Blackburn
The Welsh political journalist
A Scouse computer programmer who collects Soviet cameras
"Danimal", the heavy metal drummer
Canada's finest recorder of radio jingles
More of the same, at the Guardian
A tailor's in Lampeter where Jimmy Carter once bought a hat
An advertising man who has written a novel about dogging (I think we sometimes get each other's email)
An award-winning facilities manager in Dubai
The son of the guitarist from the Kinks Update: he is apparently "balls-out motherfucking shit-dicked exxxstatic" to be included on a Kerrang magazine giveaway CD of Iron Maiden covers, which is nice.
"Fritz Gretel" from the Ramones film "Rock 'n' Roll High School"
The former presenter of the leading politics talk radio show on the Isle of Man, now a business change manager in the Manx government secretary's office
An aquarium curator in Sussex who keeps on scoring home runs like this (this is the first stable link I've found, but he is constantly kicking ass in acquarial terms)

If you didn't like this "Daniel Davies" website, then don't give up on the Daniel Davies industry completely!

An American "Christian Political Analyst" who has the same name as me
A student at Patrick Henry College
these two might be the same guy ...
"Scatter", the deceased Liberian gangster
A naked man stuck in a chimney in Wigan
A thug in Barrow



This blog has been going downhill since ...

August 2002
September 2002
October 2002
November 2002
December 2002
January 2003
February 2003
March 2003
April 2003
May 2003
June 2003
July 2003
August 2003
September 2003
November 2003
December 2003
March 2004
April 2004
May 2004
May 2005
June 2005
July 2005
August 2005
September 2005
October 2005
November 2005
December 2005
January 2006
February 2006
March 2006
April 2006
May 2006
June 2006
July 2006
August 2006
September 2006
October 2006
November 2006
December 2006
January 2007
February 2007
March 2007
April 2007
May 2007
June 2007
July 2007
August 2007
September 2007
October 2007
November 2007
December 2007
January 2008
February 2008
March 2008
April 2008
May 2008
June 2008
July 2008
August 2008
September 2008
October 2008
November 2008
December 2008
January 2009
February 2009
March 2009
April 2009
May 2009
June 2009
July 2009
August 2009
September 2009
October 2009
November 2009
December 2009
January 2010
February 2010
March 2010
April 2010
May 2010
June 2010
July 2010
August 2010
September 2010
October 2010
November 2010
December 2010
January 2011
February 2011
March 2011
April 2011
May 2011
June 2011
July 2011
August 2011
September 2011
October 2011
November 2011
December 2011
January 2012
February 2012
March 2012
April 2012
May 2012
June 2012
July 2012
August 2012
September 2012
October 2012
December 2012
February 2013
April 2013
June 2013
July 2013
August 2013
March 2014
April 2014
August 2014
October 2015