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In My Opinion
Towards A More Perfect Society
Walter C. Wright, AR Editor-in-Chief  

The "Mutual Recognition" issue has stirred up a lot of discussion among members. All you have to do is read the Random Sampler and the letters in this issue of the AR, or review the threads in the CAS discussion forums, to realize that this issue has lit a fire under a membership that is sometimes more characterized by apathy than by action.

We are an international society. We define ourselves—through our Statement of Purpose—in terms of practice area rather than geographic area. There is nothing in the CAS Constitution that restricts our interests to North America. Clearly, the need for the CAS to define its international role is strong and will increase. Within this framework the Board is absolutely right to be exploring the important issue of Mutual Recognition. Regardless of what decision the CAS ultimately reaches, we will   benefit from the debate and by increasing our knowledge of actuarial practices around the world.

How can we maximize the chance that we make the right decision? Can we be guided by a philosophical approach? If you are considering the Mutual Recognition issue, try the following thought experiment by imagining three things. First, that you   are appointed to an elite committee of thoughtful members that will reach a consensus regarding the rules to regulate our Society. Second, that as soon as the new rules are agreed to, you and all the other committee members will die and be reborn. Third—and this is the key point—neither you nor any other committee members have any prior knowledge of what your new positions will be relative to the Society.

John Rawls, a Nobel prize-winning political philosopher, proposed this approach in his 1971 book A Theory of Justice as a theoretical method for deriving the rules for a just and morally acceptable society. The basic idea is that because committee members do not know what their new positions in society will be—rich/poor, old/young, educated/uneducated, and so on—they will derive rules that are "fair" to all members of society. The underlying principal is a little bit like the idea used by children to share a cookie: when one cuts it into two pieces and the other gets the first choice, the cutter is forced to be as fair as possible.

Can we apply this philosophical approach to the practical issue of Mutual Recognition? It is a bit of a stretch to go from Rawls's concept of developing rules for "society" to the concept of developing rules for our Society. And the concept is difficult because we must recognize that the world changes over time, and what may appear to be the correct decision today may be a clear mistake in the future. But Rawls's approach has value, because it forces us to look at the big picture rather than at what we may personally have at stake. In the long run we may be better off basing our rules on a very broad outlook, rather than on what may be of immediate benefit to our members.

If we decide to take Rawls's approach, we need to consider the various "positions in society" that will be affected by our decision:

    Current CAS   members. Fortunately, many of us are expressing our opinions.

    Current students. Who has a more direct interest in membership requirements than a student struggling through the   exams? Are we considering Mutual Recognition from their perspective?

    Members of the SOA. If we open our doors to other qualified actuaries, shouldn't SOA members be among the first to   be welcomed?

    Members of other actuarial   organizations. Do they care? Have we thought through how they would be affected? Are   we asking their opinions?

    Regulators, both in the U.S. and Canada, and   abroad. Do they want to know, or care, what the CAS designations   represent? How would our decision affect them?

    Insurance company executives, and other purchasers of our   services. What impact would a change in membership   requirements have on them?

There are many other groups that might be affected, whether they know it or not. The important thing, in taking this philosophical approach, is to think through how they might be affected, regardless of whether they would be aware of the change, and to give weight to their interests in making our final decision. This forces us to consider what would be best for them, even when that works to our disadvantage.

Rawls's theory suggests that if we follow this process conscientiously—in other words, trying to put ourselves in the place of everyone who will be affected by our decision—we will reach a consensus. I think this is unlikely, because we will all have different visions of the post-rebirth world. But if we want to arrive at a set of membership standards that is just and fair for the widest possible group, Rawls's approach is an interesting one.

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