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Social Insecurity: 401(k)s and the…
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Social Insecurity: 401(k)s and the Retirement Crisis

by James W. Russell

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This is a hard book for me to review, because its subject matter is so personal. I only wish I could have read it 30 years or more ago. I'm already retired, and what I did I did and cannot undo, but the subject of 401(k)s and the damage they have done to many people's retirement outlook and what can be done to ameliorate it is so important for younger workers to know about. I can't recommend this easy to read (well, unless you are kicking yourself for things you did and didn't do right in the past) book enough. ( )
  Storeetllr | Sep 11, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
As a skeptical Gen-Xer, Social Insecurity confirmed some of my worst fears about 401(k) investments. I found the political history very interesting and insightful. I also enjoyed the author’s clear and concise style. Anyone who feels their 401(k) adequately prepares them for a financially dignified retirement can’t afford to ignore this book. ( )
  LTietz | Jul 27, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Social Insecurity: 401(k)s and the Retirement Crisis was an exceptional read. This is one of the best books I have read that addresses why so many people are inadequately prepared for retirement. I sent a copy of this book to my friend. This is a must read book for young people. ( )
  Kate06 | Jul 8, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Social Insecurity is at its best when Russell is describing the creation of the social security and defined benefit pensions, and the political and business interests that dismantled and replaced them with defined contribution plans in the 1980s. His writing is clear, precise, and pithy, making the book a pleasure to read.

Social Insecurity is bookended by Russell's memoir narrative of his efforts to win back the right to participate in his employer's defined benefit plan. I understand why Russell used this device to frame the pure policy content of the book's middle chapters; however, I feel the book actually lost steam in its latter chapters for this decision. Overall, I feel Social Insecurity's wonkiest chapters are its strongest, and I wish Russell had included more pure data, which would have made a stronger argument than his verbal assurances that defined benefit plans are better.

I was surprised Russell didn't even mention vesting - one of the main ways employers and financial corporations make defined contribution plans even more profitable for themselves at employees' expense in this world of short-term employment. I found him disingenuous in glossing over how spiking contributes to pension plans' insolvency when taking a harder line against it would only have bolstered his argument that defined benefit plans are better.

That said, Russell's explanations of why pensions and social security need not be unprofitable (and how financial corporations work to make them so to entice people to choose defined contribution plans) are largely convincing. Potential readers may want to give the memoir sections a skip, but chapters 2 through 5 are definitely worth the book.
  Trismegistus | Jun 6, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
It's hard to get a fix on this book. There is a good deal of personal narrative, and, while the author appears to be running the numbers behind the scenes, he doesn't go into enough detail to absolutely convince. ( )
  themulhern | May 31, 2015 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0807012564, Hardcover)

How 401(k)s have gutted retirement security, from charging exorbitant hidden fees to failing to replace the income of traditional pensions
 
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, to its adoption in America through Reaganomics. Enraging yet hopeful, he offers concrete ideas on how individuals and society can arrest this downward spiral.  

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:29 -0400)

A critical assessment of today's 401(k)s traces the system's history while arguing that the Wall Street-enforced replacement of traditional pensions with 401(k) investments is failing to provide security-level income. --Publisher's description.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. Now, tens of millions of Americans are discovering that they would have been better off under traditional pension plans long since replaced. Russell 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.… (more)

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