Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Pension Petulance

Mike Nichols, former Journal Sentinel columnist turned Wisconsin Policy Research Institute talking-point parrot, derides public workers (a common Journal Sentinel theme) in a recent Journal opinion piece.

Nichols and WPRI are trying to get the 'get rid of pensions' scheme out in front of the Scott Walker campaign. One of Walker's big, budget-saving ideas is to have public workers pick up a greater share of their pension cost. Basically, transforming the pension system into a defined contribution - 401K-style - plan.

Nichols scornfully claims, "Chances are also pretty good that if you had a government job in Wisconsin and are 63, you've already been retired - and collecting a nice, big, taxpayer-funded pension - for years." He is upset that people whom have worked at their job for 25 to 30 years can retire with some peace of mind. The implication here is that public workers perform unnecessary and unproductive jobs, hardly worthy of a decent retirement.

He then makes mention of his "paltry, private sector 401(K)." He doesn't mention that the 401K system is relatively new, since roughly 1980. (A period including numerous other unfortunate policy choices which Jacob Hacker discusses in The Great Risk Shift.) This began a rapid shift from employer based, defined benefit plans, to employee managed, personal retirement accounts. The 401K originally came about as a 1978 congressional provision intended to offer tax breaks on deferred income; which tends to benefit wealthy individuals.

Also, just as public workers have chosen better benefits over hourly wages, Nichols along with other private sector workers could have done the same - that is, work in the public sector. Recent studies have concluded, when considering total compensation among similar aged and experienced private and public sector workers, public sector workers earn less.

He insists the French have to work until they're 62, and the Germans until they're 67. Thus, Nichols admonishes Wisconsin public workers for having it better than the "debt-riddle Europeans." In one sentence he inaccurately bashes Wisconsin public workers while incorrectly generalizing about "debt-riddled Europeans."

From this fantasy he has created he concludes, Wisconsin is a "social welfare state." Mike has been watching too much Glenn Beck.

His last deception is the claim that we have a well-funded pension system thanks to taxpayers. Although, collected taxes fund government, our pension system is well-funded because of wise investment decisions. While others made risky bets and lost money during the recent economic downturn, our system has stayed strong, or "well-funded." Wisconsin is one of only four states with a fully funded pension system, according to the Pew Research Center.

It's amazing that we can be in the most severe recession since the Great Depression and our media and "senior fellows" are decrying public worker retirement plans. No mention of CEO compensation, bank bailouts, income inequality, corporate tax breaks and evasion, nor unaffordable health care. No, those are the concerns of "the little people." And, discussing such in a public forum, like a major metropolitan newspaper, might actually draw some attention to such inequity.

That's no good. Better to just keep battering the middle and working class of society. And, better yet, to keep the middle and working classes battling each other...instead of reclaiming their productivity gains from the uber wealthy.

The Watchdog that is the Journal Sentinel seems more concerned with protecting wealth (or at least ensuring there is always enough public money available for private speculation) than with ensuring equality of opportunity and fairness.

For Further Reading:

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