Pension Envy & Other Psycho-economic Maladies

BY GAREN YEGPARIAN

Yup, that’s what’s going on in American society, with its natural impact on Armenian communities in the country.

Thanks to the efforts of corporations, the very rich, and their lackeys, many, if not most, private pension funds have gone the way of the dodo over the last three decades. This was not accidental. It was quite intentional so that corporate interests would be freed of the “burden” of maintaining pension funds and contributing their share to them so those monies could be used to gamble in the stock and other markets. That risk taking has brought us the “bubble and bust” economy of the last decade and a half. As a result, people are understandably envious of public sector employees who have managed to hang on to pensions.

So what happens? The mindset is fostered and encourage by the same vile elites that “public sector employees are leaches” to encourage the destruction of that last bit of the non-Social Security retirement safety net that still exists. I say it would be much smarter to reestablish pensions (“defined benefit” in the jargon of the field) as the norm, with ever more people covered. This would also encourage a more level-headed approach to investing, with the fringe benefit of having more stable financial markets enabling economic growth rather than markets being used as gambling dens that inevitably lead to crashes, wreaking havoc upon the broader economy. By way of full disclosure, I, too, am a public sector employee.

And just to clear up a misconception fostered by enemies of the middle/working class. Pensions are not giveaways. It’s not just the employer that contributes to the pot, but the employees as well. This is particularly important to understand among the Armenian community, because a larger proportion than the broader US population are small, mom-and-pop business owners, who would not be involved in the world of pensions regardless and thus have no real sense for what is involved and get caught up in the movement to malign the whole notion of pensions.

But pension-phobia and envy are only the most recently obvious tip of the iceberg of psycho-economic maladies. There’s the whole notion of “shared sacrifice” that is being foisted on those of us who are still employed. You know, pay cuts, layoffs, furloughs, longer hours, more work for the same pay, increased contributions to employee benefit programs, etc. Yet, the crooks who crashed the economy go on collecting massive bonuses. The rich and corporations, whose tax rates have declined radically from the high of 90 percent in President Eisenhower’s days to today’s 30-something-percent (and sometimes even 15 percent, whereas most of ours haven’t declined more than a few percent) are unwilling to allow even the slightest increase in those rates to pay for needed public services and infrastructure building and maintenance. Perhaps it’s a matter of defining “shared” in a way that’s not in my dictionary…

Closely related is the opposition by many of the need by all of us to pay a fair share of our income in taxes. This is embodied in progressive tax systems, i.e. the more money you make, the higher the percentage you pay of that money. Invariably, someone blurts out that “fair” would be for everyone to pay the same rate. Really? Please consider that a person who’s running a factory and making more than his employees (usually justly) is also USING and USING UP a lot more of our collective resources. That employer didn’t have to pay for his employees’ education, we all did, yet benefits from it. That employer doesn’t pay directly for the wear and tear on OUR roads caused by the employees traveling to and from work and trucks bringing in raw materials and taking away finished products. That employer doesn’t directly pay for the environmental damage cause by the generation of electricity or burning of fuels on site. All of us, as a society pay for these uses. The way society works is that government balances these costs and enables the compensation of all by the few who use more of our societal “goods”. Higher tax rates on greater income are the EPITOME of fairness.

Finally, and again related to notions of fairness, is the absurd argument that “people shouldn’t be forced to join unions”. First of all, at least in my workplace, no one is “forced” to join a union. They are, however, obligated to pay what’s called an “agency fee” to the relevant union. This is in the same amount as union dues. Why? It’s simple. Member or not, when a contract is negotiated, EVERYONE gets the same deal (again, fairness— equal pay for equal work). So the non-member is accruing a benefit. Shouldn’t s/he have to pay into the pot in the interest of fairness and proper compensation for a service received? If you argue “no”, then you should also agree that if a plumber is brought to fix the main sewer line in a condominium, then only those who feel like paying for that serve should contribute. Anyone that doesn’t want to pay should be able to opt out. How much sense would that make?

To those who forever make postings to the online versions of my articles contending that articles/issues/topics such as this one are not “Armenian” issues and therefore do not belong on the pages and websites of Armenian publications: I hasten to remind you that we are all humans, living in various societies, in this case the US of A, impacted and buffeted by the forces that swirl around us. These forces impact us not just as individuals, but also our ability to contribute to our cause. In particular, when notions of fairness and justice are involved, how can we advocate and justify our pursuit of redress from Turkey if we do not support dispensing justice to all? Please, let’s be consistent.

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7 Comments

  1. Shahan said:

    Your plumber analogy is faulty. Presumably, unlike agency fees, people in a condo would have input in the person hired to the job. Non-union members are not party to the union/employer negotiations. But even this is being generous to your analogy. If the mainline breaks in a condo, you need a plumber to fix it. Without a union to negotiate a contract, will there be no way for someone to reach a personal agreement with an employer and work for them? You almost imply that before unions existed, there was no such thing as workers and employers. You probably didn’t consider any of this, or if you did, you didn’t really care. People with psycho-socialist maladies such as yourself have a tendency to do this.

    • Razmig T said:

      Realistically and historically Shahan: lower middle class workers have never negotiated their working conditions with employers without the help of unions. And this is not being a socialist to state this (or else, Nixon was also a socialist…).

    • manooshag said:

      Thus today, the plumber, who excels in his field, is earning a living for himself and his family, deservedly, in a democracy, Before the unions, the ‘plumber’ was considered to be uneducated and inept and underpaid… unions brought dignity to the plumbers talents… same dignity as for those whose fields of endeavors requiring higher levels of education… the professionals, MDs, Teachers, Lawyers and too, one would hope, those who aspire to our Congress of the USA and the White House…

      • Hye said:

        Newsflash for manooshag: Plumbers are still considered uneducated and inept, there is no “dignity” to the plumbers talents. You’re right about the pay though, they charge us unreasonable prices and keep us from spending our money on more useful things

        Shahan: Completely agree, every time I read one of Garens articles I wonder if he has the slightest understanding of economics.

  2. Armen said:

    The level of ignorance displayed by this self-anointed genius is palpable. A true Marxist, the author makes use of traditional left wing strategies like telling half truths, ignoring full truths, waging class wars, name calling, etc., all in an effort to maintain, to his own benefit, the status quo. Mind you, Yegparian, an admitted public employee, produces NOTHING, generates NOTHING, contributes NOTHING to society via his job. He is a sponge whose life is dependant on taxpayers paying his salary and benefits. Like most government employees, Yegparian is out of touch with the real world.

    Yegparian claims that private sector pension funds have essentially been phased out by the corporate overlords who don’t want to contribute contributing their share. The fact is, most private sector workers, the middle class who Yegparian and his ilk commonly lie about trying to protect, get no contribution to their pension funds from their employers. The employees fund them 100%. (The truth is the only middle class the Marxists are interested in protecting are middle class public employees. They care nothing about the private sector middle class.) What he also doesn’t get, or that he managed to forget, is that even though he is a public employee, the money that funds his pension is also invested in the stock market by those who manage it. The only difference is that no matter what happens, in his fairy tale world, his pension is guaranteed. Sweet deal, no?

    What Yegparian calls envy is really awareness. Most of us who have been aware for years of how public employee unions have been raping taxpayers have always tried to bring the issue to light, but it has only recently hit the mainstream thanks to the efforts of a few brave governors in the Midwest. This is not an assault on worker, the middle class or unions per say. The focus is very clearly on public employee unions. I have no issue whatsoever with workers in private industry who unionize and bargain collectively with the management of the private company.

    See what Yegparian and his ilk refuse to acknowledge is the common sense idea that it is inherently unfair to give public employees collective bargaining rights to negotiate their contracts which include their pension benefits. Why? Who is it that public employees work for? Not a corporation with a Board of Directors, CEOs, CFOs, etc. They work for THE PUBLIC. Their salaries, benefits and pensions are paid by taxpayers. When is the last time that you, the taxpayer, sat down at the bargaining table to hammer out the latest contract with Public Employee Local Union XYX. When is the last time you were asked how much the geniuses at the DMV should be getting paid in salary, benefits and pensions?

    Ahh, but we have representative government. We expect our elected officials to bargain in good faith with the powerful unions for the benefit of the taxpayers. Never mind that these unions contribute millions and millions of dollars to the campaigns of these elected officials. (As an aside, the left loves to rail against the “corporate” special interest but ignores the equally powerful influence of union special interests.) How on earth is it fair that public employees can collectively bargain against the public for whom they work, when those that are supposed to represent the public interests are on the dole from the very unions with whom they are negotiating?

    Yegparian goes on, as usual, calling those of us who don’t believe that public employees should have collective bargaining rights as “enemies of the middle/working class,” despite the fact that the vast majority of whom he refers to are in fact middle/working class. We just don’t work for the government. Importantly, he identifies the mom and pop businesses – the small businesses in America which are the backbone of American life. True, they don’t live in the world of pensions yet they are the ones that are paying the outrageous benefits provided to public employees through theses pensions.

    The rest of the piece contains that standard rhetoric of class warfare and diatribes. Yegparian is an unapologetic leftist who sees government as a solution to every issue known to man. He would like nothing more than to see a world where everyone works, in some way, for the State. The trouble is, the State produces nothing and generates no wealth. It only takes.

  3. Harb said:

    Garen, if the point is that you ought to be able to comment on broad issues of our country that of course also impact Americans with Armenian lineage–sounds appropriate to me-write on.

    If one of your points is that defined benefit pensions are not giveaways–that is also true. They are one part of the compensation package provided by employers public and private. These packages change over time based on a variety of conditions–changes in wage rates that an employer has to pay to attract the talent level needed-economy-competitive pressures etc.. Parts of a compensation package can be enhanced-reduced-or eliminated going forward. They are not ordained. It is only natural to complain about changes that affect you adversely, but if the changes remain an issue–then move on-find something different.

    If one of your points is that you are the hapless victim of working class enemies and lackeys of the rich. That is a tougher sell–that sounds like standard spiel from a socialist manifesto of one stripe or another.

    We are in the USA-if you persist in being a hapless victim–you have to ask yourself how you are contributing to your own circumstance.

  4. ArdeVast Atheian said:

    Garen Yegparian is a dangerous Armenian. He advocates the same socialist policies for Armenia that have effectively demoralized and destroyed our own America and the economies of a host of other countries as well.
    Socialism is the enemy of all economies and will ultimately destroy all economies that rule by it.
    It reminds me when I was in Yerevan in December 1984. We couldn’t use the toilets at the Zvartnots airport for no other reason than that the cleaning staff there were paid in dollars to do work that no worker would do without being paid in real money. I counted twenty piles of excrement on the toilet flour. You couldn’t step into the toilet room. The facilities supervisor told me that if he paid in dollars he’d lose his job because it was against Communist regulations to compensate his staff in dollars. He needed special authorization from Moscow.
    Those very dangerous people, young and old, are now advocating the same socialist policies from artificial wages to domestic violence and sexual harassment that have devastated America with class warfare, excessive lawyering and crippling regulations.

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