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November 29, 2004

Who Drained the Pension Pool (Or: Further Thoughts on Why the Democrats Lost the Election)


This image accompanied a piece in this weekend’s NYTimes Week In Review titled “A Premature Sunset for Pension Plans?”

I don’t think an article has irked me this much in a long time. In clear and simple terms, it explains how the notion that pension funds are unaffordable or outdated is simply not true. The fact is, they work just fine. The reason they are disappearing (to the extreme detriment of middle and lower income workers), however, is because they are traditionally built around conservative, low yield investments and investment companies don’t want any part of them. What they want, instead, are funds they can use to play the market and rack up huge fees. (In other instances, funds are disappearing because they were turned over to traders who gambled away large chunks of assets, and the funds are no longer viable.)

This story has many facets. In part, however, it points out a problem with the Democrats. Isn’t it the party’s traditional role to protect the working class? Wasn’t that “the base?” The issue, however, is that the Democrats — like Republicans — have become so beholden to the finance industry that it prevents them from taking a real stand.

So now, what we have is the dominant party proposing to hand over the Social Security and Medicare system to the special interests — the same way they have let the finance industry undermine the “institution” of the pension. (Next time you hear the phrase “ownership society,” make sure to insert the word “corporate” in front of it.) At the same time, we have an opposition party which just stands around and looks the other way.

The image accompanying the article couldn’t be more ironic. Just like this man in the lounge chair, it seems most of the public is blinded to the existence of this scam. What’s even more incongruous is the warning along the edge of the pool. While huge pension funds, filled with lifetimes of hard earned employee contributions, are drowning as a result of unnecessary risk, there’s no lifeguard on duty to prevent the dive.

(photo: Ed Kashi/Corbis in the NYTimes)

  • jean

    Yeah. AND: Any time someone starts in about private investment accounts ask them how much they’d rather pay to have that account managed? 3% by HHS for Social Security, or at least 15%, by the most conservative estimates, by the account managers such as the ones mentioned in the NYT article.
    Then ask them how we’re going to fund the account to cover the future retirees whose private investment accounts went bust. Or were *ahem* Enronized. Or those who couldn’t save, or save enough. ‘Cause you know, just like with the taxpayer supported fund to bail out all those Corpo Pension Funds, there’s gonna have to be one for the private accounts…
    And THEN… no. That’s enough. I think I’ll just go bash my head against a brick wall.

  • Annoying Old Guy

    Well, actually, I pay between 0.2% and 0.3% for the management on my private investment accounts. So I’d rather pay that than the 3% of HHS. I’d never voluntarily put my money in an account with that kind of outrageous fee. Nor would I put it in a firm that had already spent every penny of previous investments and counted on new investments for redemptions. Which is exactly what SS/HHS has done. In the private sector they’d call that a “Ponzi scheme” and arrest everyone involved.

    I am very curious about where you got that 15% value, as in normal investment circles 3% is considered a high fee. I’ve seen some high fees myself but never anything like 15%. It doesn’t sound like “most” or a “conservative” estimate to me.

    As for Enron, it hardly made a ripple in the investment portfolios of anyone not employed by Enron. Moreover, unlike any sort of government scheme it was detected and eliminated within the space of a couple of years instead of (in at least one case) over a century for a massively mismanaged government program. If Enron is the worst case, then private investment is remarkably safe from the perspective of national retirement savings.

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