Or in other words There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. Which is why, Paul Krugman points out, Social Security privatization sucks:
So privatizers are in effect asserting that politicians are smart - they know that stocks are a much better investment than bonds - while private investors are stupid, and will swap their valuable stocks for much less valuable government bonds. Isn't such an assertion very peculiar coming from people who claim to trust markets?Just another handout to the rich.
When I ask privatizers that question, I get two responses.
One is that the diversion of revenue into private accounts doesn't have to lead to government borrowing, that the money can come from, um, someplace else. Of course, many schemes look good if you assume that they will be subsidized with large sums shipped in from an undisclosed location.
Alternatively, they point out that stocks on average were a very good investment over the last several decades. But remember the disclaimer that mutual funds are obliged to include in their ads: "past performance is no guarantee of future results."
Fifty years ago most people, remembering 1929, were afraid of the stock market. As a result, those who did buy stocks got to buy them cheap: on average, the value of a company's stock was only about 13 times that company's profits. Because stocks were cheap, they yielded high returns in dividends and capital gains.
But high returns always get competed away, once people know about them: stocks are no longer cheap. Today, the value of a typical company's stock is more than 20 times its profits. The more you pay for an asset, the lower the rate of return you can expect to earn. That's why even Jeremy Siegel, whose "Stocks for the Long Run" is often cited by those who favor stocks over bonds, has conceded that "returns on stocks over bonds won't be as large as in the past."
But a very high return on stocks over bonds is essential in privatization schemes; otherwise private accounts created with borrowed money won't earn enough to compensate for their risks. And if we take into account realistic estimates of the fees that mutual funds will charge - remember, in Britain those fees reduce workers' nest eggs by 20 to 30 percent - privatization turns into a lose-lose proposition.
Sometimes I do find myself puzzled: why don't privatizers understand that their schemes rest on the peculiar belief that there is a giant free lunch there for the taking? But then I remember what Upton Sinclair wrote: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it."
Speaking about handouts to the rich, I did my taxes yesterday.
For something like 7 of the last 8 years now, I've had tax refunds in the area of $600-800 per year (the one year I've had to pay, I was unemployed for a while and had to cash in a 401(K) to survive a while, and I got bit bad by the tax penalty). Nothing, absolutely nothing, has changed about my tax situation (save that I got a slight raise this year; roughly a cost of living adjustment).
This year, thanks to Bush Tax Reform, I owe $100.
Fuck you, George W. Bush. And the horse you rode in on. And everyone who looks like you (excepting the chimpanzees).
Ah, that feels better.
Len on 01.21.05 @ 12:15 PM CST