Todd Weber's Random Thoughts

May 20, 2008

Investment Industry’s Suicidal Self-Interest

The May 2008 issue of Money magazine contained a one-page interview with New School university economist, Teresa Ghilarducci, titled: The Plan to Save Early Retirement, in which the economist contends that the U.S. government should scrap 401(k)s and IRAs and replace them with a government funded, mandatory, universal savings plan.  Under her plan, the government would contribute $600 a year and require people to deposit 5% of salary to their “guaranteed retirement account.”

 

What is her reasoning for this?  People are living longer and saving less, she says, and “a rich nation ought to be able to ensure a secure old age.”  How would this system work?  The government would have to “negotiate with the money-management industry.”  I was more than a little miffed by the socialist overtones of the article, so I emailed a letter-to-the-editor.  It didn’t get printed in the June issue.

 

In the June 2008 issue of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance (I subscribe to both magazines), a similar one-page interview appears titled, Savings Accounts From Day One, featuring Professor Michael Sherraden, director of the Center for Social Development at Washington University in St. Louis.  Professor Sherradan argues for “a lifelong system of accounts for everybody to save for important life goals – post-secondary education, homeownership, additional job training…retirement security.”  He points to “One bill in Congress [that] calls for $500 for all children and an additional $500 for the poorest.”  Who would manage such a plan?  “The major asset managers.  Good plan features would be simple investment options and low costs.”   

 

Then, it all became clear.  Two investment magazines run nearly identical articles in successive months promoting a government mandated, government funded, investment system for every citizen (and presumably non-citizens, too) operated by the investment management industry, for fees, of course.  I sent a letter to the editors of Kiplinger’s, too; but I don’t expect it to be printed there, either.

 

There is nothing “new school” about Ms. Ghilarducci’s plan to save early retirement.  It’s just more European-style, nanny-state, big-government.  Professor Sherraden should re-name his department at Washington University: The Center for Socialist Development.

 

Why do people who are supposed to be so much smarter than the average bear continue to look to Europe as the shining example of modern civilization?  Do they not see that Europe is crumbling under the weight of big-government socialism?  They have an aging population that is entirely dependent upon government welfare, which is entirely dependent upon high levels of taxation, which is entirely dependent upon taxable wage-earners – a pool that is rapidly shrinking due to Europe’s unsustainably low birth rate.  When there are no more people to tax, there will be no more government-supplied benefits, and then what?  It is a wholly unsustainable system.

 

Here in the United States, we have the likes of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and the entire Democrat party who want to implement similar European-style socialism, and the financial services industry is cheering them on.  Why?  Follow the money.

 

The financial services industry is apparently licking its chops at the prospect of three-hundred-million-plus mandated retirement accounts from which they will collect management fees.  And, don’t think for a minute that such fees would be along the lines of the 1%-or-less that Vanguard charges on many of its accounts.  As with all government programs, it may start out small, but the case would soon, and continually, be made for higher and higher fees as the burden of managing such a monstrosity would put a tremendous strain on the ranks of selfless, public-serving asset managers.  Yeah, right.

 

Of course, we would then see an explosion of asset management professionals emerging from universities to get their piece of the action, just as the number of lawyers has increased like a population of rabbits to take advantage of the increasingly litigious nature of our society in the last thirty years.  At the same time, the lobbying efforts of this increasingly powerful sector would result in ever-higher government “contributions” to the mandated retirement accounts, as well as the fees paid to asset managers, which in turn would result in ever-higher taxes (enforced “contributions” to the government).  This, of course, will result in diminished economic investment and growth nationwide, less technological innovation, fewer jobs, more unemployment, a greater burden on the already terminal social security system, and so forth.  It would take only a few years, perhaps a decade or two, for the U.S. to end up in the same sorry condition as the nations of Europe.  Indeed, we are already, in many ways, headed in that direction.

 

This is the certain result of the investment industry’s apparent suicidal self-interest.  By promoting such a socialistic, mandated, tax-funded, universal retirement plan by which they hope to enrich themselves, they are also building the gallows on which they – and us all – will hang.  No doubt, they would be hugely enriched by such a plan – perhaps an entire generation of money-managers.  But, eventually the well will run dry, and the richest, most prosperous and free nation in human history will join the rest of the has-beens.  Prosperity will turn to poverty, not only monetary, but also in terms of will, creativity, liberty and spirit.  

 

Rather than supporting a plan for financial and societal suicide, it would serve the financial services industry and the entire nation much better to promote the virtues of self-reliance, personal responsibility, self-discipline, delayed gratification and thrift.  The investment industry ought to be pressing for parents and schools to teach basic financial management to children to encourage saving and investing on their own for a lifetime of financial security and prosperity, from which the industry and society would benefit not just for a generation, but forever.

 

Let’s stop listening to elitist academics who believe they have the answers for all of us knuckle-dragging ignoramuses who can’t think or act for ourselves – we who have built the greatest nation on earth.

 

Todd Weber

 May 20, 2008

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3 Comments »

  1. I came across your blog on Technorati. Nice site layout. I will stop by and read more soon.

    Mike Harmon

    Comment by Mike Harmon — May 20, 2008 @ 4:26 pm

  2. You’re so right! Living in a Socialist country for nearly 5 years, I’ve seen 1st hand how the “benefits” works and witnessed the 60% (or more) in income tax they must pay for these benefits. I’ve also witness, on countless occasions, these Eurpoean citizens and govts adopt Capitalist practices (though they’d never admit it) to make more money. Case in point, the new (and mandatory) Fuel Rations Card for all US military members living in Germany. Americans will be alloted a specific amt of fuel each month which can be purchased at American prices from the Post Exchange. Anything over this amount and we will be forced to buy gas from the German stations at the insane price of approx. $7.63 per gallon. I’ve concluded that it’s most likely another way for the German govt to make more money off of something they can control.

    On another, similar note… anyone who thinks Universal Health Care (socialist) is a good idea… take a visit to the DMV (cuz that’s what it’s like), or any military Health Clinic. Never the same doctor twice, take a number to get a prescription filled, get put on a waiting list for surgeries. I promise… NOT a good idea.

    Comment by Laura Alpuché — May 22, 2008 @ 4:35 am

  3. blatherskite says : I absolutely agree with this !

    Comment by blatherskite — May 29, 2008 @ 1:04 am


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