The Politics of Pensions



One of the difficulties faced by some of these pensions is that most of the large employers that were expected to pay into them no longer do so, many of them having ceased to exist. As Elliot Blair Smith put it in a 2016 MarketWatch write-up of the sorry history of the Central States pension fund: “Only three of the plan’s 50 largest employers from 1980 still pay into the plan. And for each active employee, it has 5.2 retired or inactive participants.”

If corporations did nothing but grow and stack up profits, then this would be a pretty good system. But that isn’t how things actually work.

In spite of the sci-fi trope of immortal, galaxy-spanning corporations, the modern business firm is in fact a relatively vulnerable and short-lived thing. In the middle of the 20th century, a big corporation might be expected to stay in business for the better part of a century; today, the average big corporation will not live long enough to legally order a beer. McKinsey has estimated that three-fourths of the companies listed in the S&P 500 in 2017 will disappear within ten years. This is an inconvenient thing for people who expect to be taken care of for all of their adult lifetimes by a single employer, but it is the result of improved business practices rather than defective ones. As businesses become more focused on their core competencies and learn to adapt more quickly to changes in the market, they become ever more temporary partnerships among different kinds of capital: physical, financial, and human.

Author(s): Kevin Williamson

Publication Date: 9 March 2021

Publication Site: National Review