Americans fear retirement less than other people

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(MoneyWatch) Although most Americans aren't confident about their ability to retire, people in other countries are even more pessimistic about their retirement prospects, according to a recent survey by Accenture.

Well, duh! I'd be pessimistic, too, if I lived in Mexico, Russia, or Spain. The consulting firm found that 92 percent, 92 percent, and 91 percent, respectively, of respondents in those countries were doubtful about their retirements. South Korea registered the highest level of pessimism, at 95 percent.

That makes sense. As the survey shows, people living in countries with struggling economies and that are experiencing political turmoil can't be expected to feel particularly optimistic about what the future will bring.

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On the other hand, democracy, freedom of speech, and respect for the law are characteristic of the countries with the lowest levels of pessimism about retirement. The countries with the lowest levels of pessimism are the U.K., Germany, Australia, and the U.S, with pessimism levels at 65 percent, 66 percent, 69 percent, and 70 percent respectively.

Besides being just interesting stuff to talk about at your next family or neighborhood get-together, what do these survey results mean to you? When you think about the observations I just made, it's easy to see that an important part of your retirement planning is voting and supporting a country that's run based on the rule of law (as opposed to countries run by dictators or the privileged elite). That's because only countries with strong economies and citizens with high confidence in its legal and financial systems can afford to have a large portion of their population not working, yet still consuming a significant part of the national output.

With that in mind, it's essential that we provide support for Social Security and Medicare, and think about the level of taxes needed to support these valuable programs. It's also important to consider income disparity when thinking about income taxes. And it's critical to think about our health care delivery system and the appropriate amount of government intervention that's needed to provide care for our citizens.

Another essential element to consider: the appropriate amount of regulation that's needed to balance consumer protection with support for innovation and service. Even though many people automatically disparage excessive regulation, we need laws and regulations to rein in the most damaging practices at financial institutions. We only need to look at the most recent scandal over global banks manipulating the London interbank offered rate for reasons why people don't trust the financial system. It's clear that a respect for the law was missing in those situations. For our own protection, we need to have laws that are both respected and enforced.

In spite of the retirement challenges that we face, when I think about how other countries are currently faring, I'm very glad that I'm living and retiring in the good 'ol USA! Thanks for listening -- and see you at the voting booth!

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    Steve Vernon helped large employers design and manage their retirement programs for more than 35 years as a consulting actuary. Now he's a research scholar for the Stanford Center on Longevity, where he helps collect, direct and disseminate research that will improve the financial security of seniors. He's also president of Rest-of-Life Communications, delivers retirement planning workshops and authored Money for Life: Turn Your IRA and 401(k) Into a Lifetime Retirement Paycheck and Recession-Proof Your Retirement Years.