Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Italian Pension Privatization: a Cautionary Tale

Krugman: A Bullet Dodged
What would have happened if George W. Bush had actually succeeded in his plan to privatize Social Security? Ask the Italians.

Italian Pensions Sapped by Private Funds Bush Backed (my extract is a little different than Krugman's)
Jan. 5 (Bloomberg) -- Italy did for retirement financing what President George W. Bush couldn’t do in the U.S.: It privatized part of its social security system. The timing couldn’t have been worse.

The global market meltdown has created losses for those who agreed to shift their contributions from a government severance payment plan to private funds meant to yield higher returns. Anger is rising both at the state, which promoted the change, and money managers such as UniCredit SpA and Arca Previdenza, which stood to profit.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s administration is now considering ways to compensate as many as 1.2 million people who made the switch, giving up a fixed return for private plans linked to financial markets. It’s also letting people delay redemptions on retirement funds to avoid losses after Italy’s benchmark stock index fell 50 percent in 2008, destroying 300 billion euros ($423 billion) in wealth.

“The reform didn’t help anyone,” said Gabriele Fava, who heads the Fava & Associati law firm in Milan and writes about labor law. “Not the government, which was hoping everyone would make the switch to take the strain off its coffers, nor the workers who have not resolved the problem of needing a supplement to their social security pensions.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

More on the new Administration's possible plans regarding Social Security (aka spending some political capital) at

Relevant exerpts below:

• Create Automatic Workplace Pensions: Under the Obama-Biden plan, employers who do not currently offer a retirement plan will be required to enroll their employees in a direct-deposit IRA account.
• Expand Retirement Savings Incentives for Working Families: Obama and Biden will create a savings match for low and middle-income Americans. The savings match will be automatically deposited into designated personal accounts.

I think we have the possibility of a double-header here — justification for Social Security benefit rollbacks AND creation of immediate financial windfalls with new streams of guaranteed revenue for Wall Street in perpetuity.

Sounds like the same old Washington Consensus to me, just another flavor of privatization.