Monday, April 13, 2009

The Public Pension Money Pit


Funds worth trillions of dollars start to plummet in value. Political pressure to be “socially responsible” distorts the market decisions of government-related enterprises, leading to risky investments. Investors who once considered their retirements safely protected wake up to a sinking feeling of uncertainty and gloom.

Sound like the great mortgage-fueled financial crisis of 2008? Sure. But it also describes a calamity likely to hit in 2009. State, local, and private pension plans covering millions of government employees and union workers with “defined benefit” accounts are teetering on the brink of implosion, victims of both a sinking stock market and investment strategies influenced by political considerations.

There is about $3.5 trillion sloshing through the U.S. retirement system, scattered across more than 2,600 public pension funds and federal retirement accounts.

Large public pension funds have a selfish notion of risk: heads they win, tails you lose. If they gamble on risky investments that pay off, they are heroes, although the predetermined benefits don’t increase. But if those investments go south, tax dollars will have to bridge the gap. “This is adding insult to injury,” says Jon Coupal of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. “At the same time we’re seeing our own 401(k)s get hit, we’re on the hook to make up the shortfalls for public employees who are guaranteed their full pensions without any risk.”

Jon Entine, The Next Catastrophe, Reason Magazine


Anonymous Jack Dean said...

You can follow this crisis on a daily basis at

10:43 PM  

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