Mending the cracked nest egg

Many Americans' retirement nest eggs have fallen and cracked into pieces. Is yours still intact?

Our plight has been on the minds of legislators lately. The House Education and Labor Committee recently held a hearing, "Strengthening Worker Retirement Security," at which the disastrous condition of our retirement plans was discussed among experts from academia and the investment industry. They are trying to put our nest eggs back together again.

"The current economic crisis has exposed deep flaws in our nation's retirement system," declared committee Chair George Miller, D-Calif., in opening remarks at the first of a series of such hearings. Rep. Howard P. McKeon, R-Calif., cautioned against sounding the alarm bells. "Now is not the time to frighten people out of the market," he warned. "Triggering a widespread exodus from the system would only exacerbate the market's downward trend, while cementing these deep losses."

All the experts at the hearing agreed that a strong Social Security system is important. Aside from that, they offered solutions that run the gamut from a government-run system to improvements to the existing free-market system. It makes you wonder: If capitalism isn't working, would another system be better?

'Animal Farm' redux 
Believe it or not, the livestock in George Orwell's "Animal Farm" dreamed about retiring one day. It's the tale of domesticated animals that broke free from the tyranny of Farmer Jones and lived in a communal system in which they shared the fruits of their labor -- though the pigs got a larger share. Published in 1945, the book was a satire on Communism, though with just minor revisions it could serve as a spoof on contemporary capitalism.

The protagonists harbored retirement dreams similar to ours.


At the beginning, when the laws of "Animal Farm" were first formulated, the retiring age had been fixed for horses and pigs at 12, for cows at 14, for dogs at nine …. Liberal old-age pensions had been agreed upon. As yet no animal had actually retired on pension, but of late the subject had been discussed more and more. … For a horse, it was said, the pension would be five pounds of corn a day and, in winter, 15 pounds of hay, with a carrot or possibly an apple on public holidays. Boxer's twelfth birthday was due in the late summer of the following year.

Of course, none of the animals ever retired. As the workhorse Boxer approached retirement, he fell ill and, instead of being nursed back to health and turned out to pasture, he was sent to the glue factory, where his hide and other parts were sold off and the proceeds used to buy whiskey for the pigs. He had lived by his favorite maxim, "I will work harder," until his dying day.

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