"This is the story of how one individual fought bureaucracy—and won.... His campaign is truly a case history to be emulated, one that requires much patience and time." — Booklist
A retirement crisis is looming. In 2008, as the 401(k) fallout rippled across the country, horrified holders watched 25 percent of their funds evaporate overnight. Average 401(k) balances for those approaching retirement are too small to generate more than $4,000 in annual retirement income, and experts predict that nearly half of middle-class workers will be poor or near poor in retirement. But long before the recession, signs were mounting that few people would ever be able to accumulate enough wealth on their own to ensure financial security later in life. This hasn’t always been the case.
Each generation of workers since the nineteenth century has had more retirement security than the previous generation. That is, until 1981, when shaky 401(k) plans began replacing traditional pensions. For the last thirty years, we’ve been advised that the best way to build one’s nest egg is to heavily invest in 401(k)-type programs, even though such plans were originally designed to be a supplement to rather than the basis for retirement.
This financial experiment, promoted by neoliberals and aggressively
peddled by Wall Street, has now come full circle, with tens of millions
of Americans discovering that they would have been better off under
traditional pension plans long since replaced. As James W. Russell
explains, this do-it-yourself retirement system—in which individuals
with modest incomes are expected to invest large sums of capital in
order to reap the same rewards as high-end money managers—isn’t working.
Social Insecurity tells the story of a massive and international retirement robbery—a substantial transfer of wealth from everyday workers to Wall Street financiers via tremendously costly hidden fees. Russell traces what amounts to a perfect swindle, from its ideological origins at Milton Friedman’s infamous Chicago School to its implementation in Chile under Pinochet’s dictatorship and its adoption in America through Reaganomics. Enraging yet hopeful, Russell offers concrete ideas on how individuals and society can arrest this downward spiral.
James W. Russell is the author of eight books, including Double Standard: Social Policy in Europe and the United States. An authority on retirement policy in the United States, Europe, and Latin America, Russell led one of the first employee movements to successfully challenge the dominant trend and replace a 401(k)-like plan with a more secure traditional pension plan. He has taught at universities in the United States and as a Fulbright professor in Mexico and the Czech Republic. He lives in Storrs, Connecticut.