Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Public Sector Pensions: True/False Quiz

Questions for anyone who supports public sector pensions.

1. True or false? It is ideal to make all California taxpayers personally liable for financial obligations of potentially trillions of dollars to 12% of state workers.

2. True or false? If a financial manager fails to produce 8% returns over the course of 15, 20, or 30 years, he is either incompetent or has mismanaged funds.

3. True or false? Despite the fact that CalPERs bought actual land and commodities like timber in addition to stocks, it still failed to diversify its holdings over the past ten years.

4. True or false? As fund assets increase, it is easier to produce 8% gains.

5. True or false? As fund assets reach the hundreds of billions, it becomes harder to produce consistent gains because it becomes harder to effectively invest in all types of investments.

6. True or false? Warren Buffett, Stanford University, and Chuck Reed are lying to us or are uninformed when they warn us that government pensions in their current form are unsustainable and we should switch to a two-tier pension system.

7. In your opinion, what percentage of mutual funds run by professional managers have weathered the 2008-2009 recession? What makes you believe CalPERs will be in the top group of professional money managers in the future, given their performance in 2008-2009? If Bernanke and Greenspan couldn't see the housing crisis coming, why do you think a CalPERs money manager will?

8. True or false? It is ideal to rely on professional managers--most of whom have proven themselves incompetent over the past ten years--to prevent California taxpayers from being personally liable for potentially trillions of dollars of benefits to just 12% of state workers.

9. Almost all of California's public pensions assume an 8% average annual growth rate. Somewhere, there is a mutual fund manager who can manage the state's pension money and promise 8% annual gains. Do you have your money with him or her? If so, can I have the person's contact information?

10. Have you invested at least 25K in non-401k assets over the past seven years? (The reason I ask is because you would have a better idea of how difficult it is to get 8% a year, even over the long run.)

Even the big funds chase performance and have to mix up asset allocations. That involves the potential for human error no matter what. At some point, public pension supporters are just arguing that 12% of state workers should be immune from investment mistakes while the other 88% cover their arse.

Also, note that I did not mention private unions in this thread. It is a separate discussion, b/c private corporations, unlike states, can more easily declare bankruptcy to shed themselves of any long term obligations. The issue in the corporate union realm is how to ensure proper funding of the PGGC while minimizing the cost to taxpayers and consumers.

Furthermore, the best argument against private sector unions is that they harm younger and newer workers by enacting artificial barriers to getting a job; therefore, one can argue that unions limit worker mobility and freedom, especially for younger workers and immigrants.

In addition, being pro-union (or socialist) usually means you favor restricting work for immigrants in favor of native-born citizens. This is because most union jobs go to citizens, not new immigrants. It's not inherently wrong to believe that citizens should get preference over immigrants for jobs, but it depends on what kind of society you want, i.e., a faster-growing, dynamic society--or a society that votes themselves benefits to a specific class of people at the expense of future growth. But again, that's a separate discussion, and this "quiz" was designed to apply only to public sector unions and benefits.

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