Gladwell (and Drucker) on Pensions

The Risk Poolhttps://management.curiouscatblog.net/2006/08/21/gladwell-and-drucker-on-pensions/ by Malcolm Gladwell (author of The Tipping Point and Blink):

The most influential management theorist of the twentieth century was Peter Drucker, who, in 1950, wrote an extraordinarily prescient article for Harper’s entitled “The Mirage of Pensions.” It ought to be reprinted for every steelworker, airline mechanic, and autoworker who is worried about his retirement. Drucker simply couldn’t see how the pension plans on the table at companies like G.M. could ever work. “For such a plan to give real security, the financial strength of the company and its economic success must be reasonably secure for the next forty years,” Drucker wrote. “But is there any one company or any one industry whose future can be predicted with certainty for even ten years ahead?” He concluded, “The recent pension plans thus offer no more security against the big bad wolf of old age than the little piggy’s house of straw.”

Pension plans did work well for a short period of time. But recently they (along with the attached retiree health care) are one of the big problems facing large old companies: like GM. Gladwell talks about the dependency ratio for an economy and the dependency ratio of companies. Worsening dependency ratios can cause pension plans to kill companies (if they are not funded when the obligation is incurred) – as the company is forced to pay for more and more retirees with fewer and fewer workers.

Under the circumstances, one of the great mysteries of contemporary American politics is why Wagoner isn’t the nation’s leading proponent of universal health care and expanded social welfare. That’s the only way out of G.M.’s dilemma.

It is also something that was perfectly predictable in 1980. Why They were not lobbying back then for a system that would be in their long term interests is a huge part of the reason for where they find themselves today.

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