Pluralistic: 06 Jun 2022

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Against Cozy Catastrophies

Cowering in a luxury bunker is a lousy retirement plan.

A lush lawn and garden hedge wall; through the gate and over the hedge, we see a smouldering, apocalyptic landscape. Desperate hands reach over the wall. In the foreground is a No Trespassing sign.
Djuradj Vujcic/CC BY 2.0; Gerald England/CC BY-SA 2.0; modified

In 1978, Jimmy Carter’s IRS created the 401(k) retirement program. Prior to this, most Americans had two ways to enjoy a dignified retirement: Social Security, and employer-provided defined-benefits pensions, which guaranteed you a proportion of your final salary every month from your retirement until your death.

The 401(k) was a third way to plan for retirement: you could gamble in the stock-market, and hope that you weren’t the sucker at the table. At first, this was a great deal: between the tax-breaks for 401(k) bets and generous employer-matching funds, many workers and unions were convinced to trade their sure-thing defined-benefits pensions for market-based alternatives.

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