Pension Funds and Ponzi Schemes

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

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?


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend