The Olson file
By DOUGLAS OLSON
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Financially and politically, I was little more than a snot-nosed kid when Congress created the 401(k) retirement savings program in 1978. But even then I smelled a rat.
On the surface, it sounded like a good deal just like so many of the disasters propagated by government. Big Brother would magnanimously allow workers to "defer" a certain, limited amount of income into a long-term investment account without paying taxes on those dollars! Funds in the account would (presumably) grow tax-free for the taxpayer's entire working life, and could not be withdrawn without a horrendous penalty until the individual reached age 591/2. At age 701/2, a certain amount would have to be withdrawn each year.
Besides the initial tax avoidance, the selling point was that the taxes paid as the money was withdrawn would be at a lower rate than otherwise, since the worker would have a lower income in retirement.
So what's not to like?
Well, even with virtually no real consideration of my own eventual
retirement, and only a vague memory of John Lennon, Ingmar Bergman, and
other celebrities of the day fleeing Britain and the Scandinavian countries to
Who knew what the U.S. tax rate would be in that unbelievably far-off year, starting with the bizarre number 20 instead of 19, when I would be withdrawing funds from a 401(k) account if I had one? Could the tax actually be more than the income I received? It had happened in Europe who was going to say it couldn't happen here?
Even as a naïf, I instinctively realized that one could never count on the government not to implement a confiscatory tax rate within any period of half a century. Even then I was able to discern the political difference between "unearned" investment income and wages for actual work and discern also that the former could be demagogued by socialist politicians and taxed unmercifully for the benefit of "working Americans" who chose not to save anything for their old age.
In short, I foresaw Obama and his cohorts in the 111th Congress. But I
underestimated the evil and venality of current-day politicians it's
hard to imagine the unimaginable, especially as an inexperienced youngster.
The proposals are far more Draconian and confiscatory than my innocent fear
Before Obama was sworn in even before he won the election
the House of Representatives held hearings, in October 2008, on a plan for
federal seizure and confiscation of the
Never mind that the same government considering that scheme is trumpeting
the fact that Social Security is hopelessly insolvent and will be unable to
make even the payments due within a decade from then-current revenues.
Never mind that the same government is aggressively silent on any action to
"solve" this politician-created disaster and that the Democrats, now
in charge, immediately bring the wrath of Karl Marx and his latter-day disciples in government and the media down on the head of any Republican who hints
at a free-market alternative for the slightest fraction of those who will
inevitably be left holding the fiscal bag.
The main witness at the October hearing was Teresa Ghilarducci, the "Irene and Bernard L. Schwartz Professor of Economic Policy Analysis at The New School for Social Research," in New York City. Those credentials alone should make any honest observer immediately suspicious.
Ghilarducci's written testimony is unbelievably sloppy, and almost incomprehensible in places, but her attitude is clear. She is a socialist if not an outright communist and she doesn't want anyone to have appreciable retirement assets outside government control.
In her opening paragraph she complains about the "corrosive effects" of 401(k) and similar plans, and complains that they "add to the profits and growth of the financial sector and extracted [sic] ever-increasing tax breaks from the Treasury." Horrors!
Her proposal is to seize the 401(k) funds and replace them with federally
administered "Guaranteed Retirement Accounts" composed of government
bonds, earning a
Ghilarducci's "long-term" answer is to force not just 401(k) participants but
everyone into a similar program, where an additional
If that doesn't send shivers down your spine, consider this.
Also unknown to me in the 1970s and, I daresay, unknown to most people today was the 1960 Supreme Court decision in Flemming v. Nestor, which declared that those who pay into Social Security have absolutely no contractual right to any benefits from that program. The Social Security "contribution" is simply another tax, declared the court; and Congress, with the signature of the president, has an absolute right to increase, reduce, or eliminate payments and other benefits at any time.
Think about that the next time you look under "FICA" on your pay stub.
April 25, 2009
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