The Sustainability of State and Local Government Pensions: A Public Finance Approach




In this paper we explore the fiscal sustainability of U.S. state and local government pensions plans.
Specifically, we examine if under current benefit and funding policies state and local pension plans
will ever become insolvent, and, if so, when. We then examine the fiscal cost of stabilizing pension
debt as a share of the economy and examine the cost associated with delaying such stabilization
into the future. We find that, despite the projected increase in the ratio of beneficiaries to workers
as a result of population aging, state and local government pension benefit payments as a share of
the economy are currently near their peak and will eventually decline significantly. This previously
undocumented pattern reflects the significant reforms enacted by many plans which lower benefits
for new hires and cost-of-living adjustments often set beneath the expected pace of inflation.
Under low or moderate asset return assumptions, we find that few plans are likely to exhaust their
assets over the next few decades. Nonetheless, under these asset returns plans are currently not
sustainable as pension debt is set to rise indefinitely; plans will therefore need to take action to
reach sustainability. But the required fiscal adjustments are generally moderate in size and in all
cases are substantially lower than the adjustments required under the typical full prefunding
benchmark. We also find generally modest returns, if any, to starting this stabilization process
now versus a decade in the future. Of course, there is significant heterogeneity with some plans
requiring very large increases to stabilize their pension debt.

Author(s): Jamie Lenney, Bank of England
Byron Lutz, Federal Reserve Board of Governors
Finn Schüle, Brown University
Louise Sheiner, Brookings Institution

Publication Date: 25 March 2021

Publication Site: Brookings

Negative Interest Rates Are Coming, but There Is No Chance That They Will Work




As The Guardian and many other newspapers reported yesterday, the Bank of England yesterday announced that it was preparing the ground for negative official interest rates within six months.

As the Bank has suggested, this does not mean that there will be negative rates. But unless they allow for the possibility if that now they will, as they admit, restrict their policy options. In that case this announcement has to be seen as creating the possibility of negative nominal interest rates.


Sixth, it is an unfortunate fact that this will not work. As I have already noted, in practice we already have real negative interest rates. There is nothing new then about this policy. And since existing negative rates have not stopped people saving, making such rates official will have little macro impact. After a crisis people are cautious. They are willing to pay the price of a government guarantee. And if that is a negative interest rate, so be it. I suggest that will continue to be true for several years based on past trends.

My suggestion is, then, that the Bank can try this policy but it will be a vain attempt to stimulate the economy that will not succeed. Much more radical thinking is required to achieve that. I will address that in another post, soon. I will link it when it is up.

Author(s): Yves Smith, Richard Murphy

Publication Date: 6 February 2021

Publication Site: naked capitalism