Covering 'The Great Retirement Ripoff'

If there's one thing that I feel guilty about never addressing in my column, it's the great retirement ripoff. Luckily, Time magazine just did a cover story called, funnily enough, "The Great Retirement Ripoff" (unluckily, it's a pay site, so this link only goes to a tease). What a great idea.

There has obviously been a counter-revolution in American commerce that has permitted, even encouraged many corporations to renege on promises made to employees and the annihilation of the once ubiquitous expectation that work pensions would substantially help fund retirement. It is hard stuff to understand, much less make for interesting writing. So I haven't tackled it yet. There is also the conflict of interest problem: my employer changed its pension rules during my tenure here in ways that hurt my financial interests. (Note to Public Eye community: is that a substantial conflict of interest? Or trivial?)

The Time story was written by one of the finest investigative teams in the country, Donald L. Bartlett and James B. Steele, who took on the toughest, biggest economic topics in a long run at The Philadelphia Inquirer. I hoped this would be the definitive retirement ripoff piece. It's terrific. Read it. But it is not quite the piece I had hoped for.

Partly this is because it has crusading and even conspiratorial portions that are detracting. For example, the piece begins -- as all modern financial pieces in MSM must -- with a "real person" or a "victim" -- pick your phrase. Here's it's the widow of a truck driver. "But in 1986," the piece says, "he was killed on the job in a highway accident attributed to faulty maintenance on his truck, as his company struggled to survive the cutthroat pricing of congressionally ordered deregulation." Congress and capitalism not only killed the man, but ripped off his widow. I think that attributes too much intentionality to the world.

But that's a quibble. The Time covers story is good work, though not a great primer.

The great question about the pension scandal is how so many companies have been allowed to break promises and even raid pension funds. I don't yet fully understand it.