Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Teresa Ghilarducci, Bernard L. and Irene Schwartz Chair of Economic Policy Analysis The New School for Social Research, and author of “When I’m Sixty-Four: The Plot Against Pensions and the Plan to Save Them," has penned this response to the recent blog post we did on Zelinsky and the 401(k) Lessons from the Crash of 2008.
I appreciate Zelinsky calling like it is -- the so-called 2006 Pension Protection Act and the DOL regulations privilege a faddish approach to investing which is overweighted towards stock. (Zelinsky calls it a “enshrining stock-based approach in the law.”) Government paternalism, though is not the problem as Zelinsky characterizes it. He calls the government’s default option for automatic 401(k) contributions, "paternalism." The problem actually is the government’s lack of caring. The Paulson – Bernacke plan proposes a bailout of the investment firms with very little new regulation and maintaining the same legal biases toward 401(k).
The government should do a lot more, I call for a democratic “paternalism.” Instead of giving investment banks a way out – the government is providing a market for their junk assets – it should be giving near retirees and retirees the option to clear the junk out of their accounts and transfer them to government guaranteed bonds. I describe these vehicles in my new book; they are called “Guaranteed Retirement Accounts.” Every worker would get $600 annually from the government in exchange for investing 5% of their pay every pay period to invest in a retirement account that the government would pay 3% indexed for inflation.
The government is now pursuing a misguided message – retirement security can be achieved through 401(k) accounts. What all workers need is access to the same investment vehicles that most public sector workers have, including all federal workers, and most unionized workers. All workers need a secure vehicle, like a defined benefit plan. All workers deserve to put their retirement dollars in a vehicle that guarantees a low–fee and safe return. If we swap tax breaks for 401(k) plans (70% got to the top 20% of wage earners) for a $600 contribution to a guaranteed account for all workers it would cost the government nothing and help the people who need help the most– unlike all the other proposals swirling around.
Please feel free to send your comments to me if you would like to add your two cents to this most timely of debates.