For months, if not years, we’ve warned that conflicted politicians and union bosses pursue a perverse set of goals in their management of pension funds, most of which have nothing to do with the application of sound financial principles. Here’s how we summarized the situation back in the summer (see “An Unsolvable Math Problem: Public Pensions Are Underfunded By As Much As $8 Trillion“):
Defined Benefit Pension Plans are, in many cases, a ponzi scheme. Current assets are used to pay current claims in full in spite of insufficient funding to pay future liabilities… classic Ponzi. But unlike wall street and corporate ponzi schemes no one goes to jail here because the establishment is complicit. Everyone from government officials to union bosses are incentivized to maintain the status quo…public employees get to sleep better at night thinking they have a “retirement plan,” public legislators get to be re-elected by union membership while pretending their states are solvent and union bosses get to keep their jobs while hiding the truth from employees.
Then, just a couple of weeks ago, CalPERS confirmed our fears when they chose to lower their discount rate by only 50bps to 7%, nearly a full point above their 6.2% projected annual returns over the next decade. Even more startling was the open admission from Richard Costigan, chairman of the CalPERS finance committee, that the decision was motivated by the board’s desire to maintain the ponzi, saying: “this is just a start…municipalities and other government agencies need some breathing room before they absorb the impact.”