Trillion-dollar deficits as far as the eye can see are not going down well with voters. The president has plans for even more big spending. The Chinese have said there’s not enough money in the world to finance U.S. debt. Already, the annual federal deficit is being financed by selling 80 percent of the Treasury notes and bonds – to the Federal Reserve! Obama needs lots of real money, and he needs it now.
According to the Labor and Treasury Departments, draft federal regulations will be published for public comment as soon as next week which would “promote” the conversion of 401(k) and IRA accounts to annuities. Make no mistake here: Obama is after your retirement money. The “annuities” will “invest” not in the familiar packages of bond and stock mutual funds but in the Treasury debt!
The biggest pool of real money left in the U.S. (more than $4.7 trillion) is in 401(k) and IRA “defined contribution” accounts. Created by Congress, these saving for retirement devices allow millions of working Americans in more than 700,000 private plans to defer federal income tax on annual contributions to the account.
During working years (the accumulation phase), the account is invested mostly in private companies. These retirement accounts are the lifeblood of capitalism.
In retirement, tax is paid on the amount withdrawn from the account. Many retirees choose to buy private annuities with all or part of the 401(k) locking in guaranteed (lower) return. The annuity allows further tax deferment because only a portion of the payout is return of principal. Private annuities also presently invest mostly in private companies although they are permitted to also invest in Treasury debt.
Now the feds want to “regulate” the inclusion of tax-deferred annuities into already tax-deferred retirement accounts of still-working Americans. As stated this week by Assistant Labor Secretary Phyllis C. Borzi and Assistant Treasury Secretary Mark Iwry, recent stock losses to retirement accounts mean that the feds must protect workers with safer “lifetime income options.” And what could be “safer” than Treasury bonds with principal and interest guaranteed by the U.S. government?
The idea to confiscate your retirement money came (no surprise) from academia.
On Nov. 20, 2007, Theresa Ghilarducci, professor of economic policy analysis at the New School for Social Research in New York, presented a paper proposing that the feds eliminate the tax deferral for private retirement accounts, confiscate the balance of those accounts, give each worker a $600 annual “contribution,” assess a mandatory savings tax on every worker and guarantee a 3 percent rate of return on the newly titled “Guaranteed Retirement Accounts,” or GRAs.
Professor Ghilarducci repeated the proposal on Oct. 17, 2008, in testimony before the House Committee on Education and Labor. She testified that the current system “exacerbates income and wealth inequalities,” and told an interviewer later: “I’m just rearranging the tax breaks that are available now for 401(k)s and spreading … spreading the wealth.”
The professor cited another reason supporting her plan – you’re too dumb. The federal takeover would eliminate investment risk because “Humans often lack the foresight, discipline and investing skills required to sustain a savings plan.”
Responding to the professor’s remarks, Chairman of the Committee Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., blamed Wall Street for the stock-market drop and pledged to “strengthen and protect Americans’ 401(k)s, pensions and other retirement plans.”
Argentina did just that. The Wall Street Journal reported on Oct. 22, 2008, that Argentina had seized all private retirement accounts and promised to compensate holders of those accounts with government bonds. Investors thereafter fled Argentina, and the value of those bonds collapsed.
The current proposal does not go this far. The Employee Benefits Security Administration in the Department of Labor will issue a request for information inviting ideas on how annuity lifetime options should be structured into defined contribution private retirement plans.
This is the first step. Recent stock-market gains have taken the edge off the push to nationalize these accounts in return for the “security” of government-guaranteed return. A future “crisis” of stock-price downturn could be just the trigger needed to make professor Ghilarducci the czar, or czarina, of your retirement account.