23 November 2003

The Chile Con

In today's Arizona Republic, columnist Robert Robb repeats conservative and libertarian think tank mantra on the argument for social security privatization. Robb omits some crucial details and offers a disservice in applying disinformation on other points. A serious examination into the matter reveals insidious subterfuge by monied interests, wishing to get their grubby hands all over another financial pie.

First, on the matter of Social Security being in trouble:

Social Security is not going broke. In fact, even under the pessimistic assumptions of the Social Security trustees, Social Security can pay full benefits until the year 2041. Thereafter, Social Security can still pay more than two thirds of its promised benefits.

Each year, in early spring, the trustees of Social Security release their report. As required by law, the trustees present what can be described as their best guesses for three different scenarios for the future of Social Security. In their annual report for 2002, the trustees project that Social Security will take in more in income than it will pay out in expenditures until 2017. Between 2017 and 2027, interest income earned on the trust fund assets is forecasted to make up the difference between income and expenditures. After 2027, Social Security is expected to draw down its trust funds to pay for the expenditures that are not covered by income. Finally, in 2041, the trust fund surplus is expected to be depleted, and annual revenue into the program is projected to be less than expenditures. However, the trustees project that Social Security will still be able to pay for more than two-thirds of its promised benefits from 2041 to 2076.

So, in another words, the Social Security program, for the next 15 years, will generate a surplus in each year. And it won't be until nearly 40 years later until that the surplus will be exhausted and revenue is exceeded by expenditures. And, by the most pessismistic model. Each for the fifth straight year, the trustees pushed back the date when the trust fund was projected to run into trouble.

But a greater faux pas by Robb is extolling the virtues of the Chilean model. One needs to peel aside the propaganda and simply look at the facts, which are emblematic of all social security privatization schemes to date around the globe, including an equivalent comparison here in the states between 401K programs and pension plans.

The real return after commissions over other periods of time is even lower. For example, although the average rate of return on funds from 1982 through 1986 was 15.9 percent, the real return after commissions was a mere 0.3 percent! Between 1991 and 1995, the pre-commission return was 12.9 percent, but with commissions it fell to 2.1 percent. Chilean regulators have sought to lower commissions, which have come down from their peak of 8.69 percent of taxable salary in 1984 to around 3.1 percent today (this includes a disability insurance premium of around 1 percent of income), but these middleman fees still represent between 16.7 percent and 20 percent of a worker's overall social security contributions (administrative costs under the old public system in Chile represented 5 percent of total contributions). By contrast, the U.S. system pays no commissions, and administrative costs are less than 2 percent of workers' contributions. Upon a Chilean worker's retirement, financial advisors charge fees as high as 3 percent to 5 percent of the worker's total accumulated funds to help the worker choose among various financial options.

Administrative costs will be 15 to 400 times greater under a privatized plan, according to empirical data. Even the Bush touted private accounts plan features administrative costs seven times greater than the current program.

The trustees report also shows that the Social Security system is far more efficient than the private accounts advocated by Bush. The administrative costs of running private accounts -- the money paid out to financial industry -- would be about 5 percent of annual benefits, according to the commission's own estimates. By contrast, the Social Security trustees report shows that the administrative costs of running the Social Security system are just 0.7 percent of annual benefit payments. The difference would amount to tens of billions of dollars paid from workers' retirement savings to the financial industry.

And that's money drawn out of the pockets of needy flowing into the coffers of the already wealthy...

10 November 2003

Comparative Home Prices in the U.S.

According to Coldwell Banker, a 2,200 square foot home in La Jolla, California will set you back nearly $1.4 million, the most expensive in the states, while Binghamton, New York is the most affordable, at $121,400.

In Arizona, Scottsdale is the locale for all the pricey real estate while Mesa offers the best bargains.

8 November 2003

Welcome to the Machines

Former Clinton Secretary of Labor Robert Reich with an interesting take on the disappearance of manufacturing jobs and how it's not a phenomenon exclusive to the United States:
America has been losing manufacturing jobs to China, Latin America and the rest of the developing world. Right? Well, not quite. It turns out that manufacturing jobs have been disappearing all over the world. Economists at Alliance Capital Management in New York took a close look at employment trends in 20 large economies recently, and found that since 1995 more than 22 million factory jobs have disppeared.

In fact, the United States has not even been the biggest loser. Between 1995 and 2002, we lost about 11 percent of our manufacturing jobs. But over the same period, the Japanese lost 16 percent of theirs. And get this: Many developing nations are losing factory jobs. During those same years, Brazil suffered a 20 percent decline.

Here’s the real surprise. China saw a 15 percent drop. China, which is fast becoming the manufacturing capital of the world, has been losing millions of factory jobs.

What’s going on? In two words: Higher productivity.