Pension Funds and Ponzi Schemes

Martha Paskoff Welsh of the Century Foundation has a valuable report on Congress’ role in creating the current pension fund crisis. Here’s what it comes down to:

Congress repeatedly has passed legislation that enables corporations to underfund their pensions, overstate their profits, and postpone to another day any action that would lead them to keep their promises to employees. At the same time, Congress has passed laws making it more difficult for struggling workers and retirees to file for bankruptcy protection. The pattern is consistent: give business the breaks they need to avoid responsibilities to their employees while cracking down on households in trouble.

Is there any way out of this? Well, a few months ago Michael Hudson wrote in Harper’s that Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security can be seen as a last-ditch attempt to bail out companies that have underfunded their pensions, primarily by giving stock prices a much-needed jolt. Perhaps. My sense is that the plot to phase-out Social Security has less to do with dastardly corporate bailout schemes—see William Greider for more along these lines—and more to do with simple ideology. Conservatives hate Social Security as a program; after all, it’s the shining, popular symbol of the New Deal and the triumph of big-government liberalism, even though there’s nothing all that “big government” about Social Security (all it does is take money in and pay money out; no labyrinthine bureaucracies here.) Still, it is rather convenient that privatization just happens to help Congress and large corporations patch over the pension-fund Ponzi scheme they’ve been running all these years, isn’t it?


We recently wrapped up the crowdfunding campaign for our ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project, and it was a smashing success. About 10,364 readers pitched in with donations averaging $45, and together they contributed about $467,374 toward our $500,000 goal.

That's amazing. We still have donations from letters we sent in the mail coming back to us, so we're on pace to hit—if not exceed—that goal. Thank you so much. We'll keep you posted here as the project ramps up, and you can join the hundreds of readers who have alerted us to corruption to dig into.

We Recommend


Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.


Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.