Friday, November 21, 2008

Nationalizing Private Pensions

The financial crisis is being felt beyond the US. An article in today’s Bloomberg News reports that, in Argentina, the Peronist party-controlled Senate approved President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s plan to nationalize the country’s $26 billion in private pension funds. Argentina's government says nationalizing the private pensions will protect retirees' savings during the current global economic turmoil. Opponents of the plan claim that the proposal is simply a cash grab and the state-run social security agency cannot be trusted to manage the funds responsibly. The controversial plan has resulted in Argentina’s stock market losing more than half of its value and sparked demonstrations throughout the country. Earlier this month on November 7, after a rigorous 14-hour debate, the Lower House passed the bill. With the recent Senate vote, the plan will become law.

International organizations that oversee global financial system institutions, like the IMF, have little faith in Argentina’s bookkeeping as Argentina defaulted on part of its external debt in2001-2002. Foreign sources of capital, including US banks, have been unwilling to do business with the Argentine treasury. In the case of Aurelius v. Argentina, 07-cv-02715 US District Judge Thomas Griesa of the Southern District of New York granted a temporary order freezing American assets owned by Argentine pension funds to prevent their transfer out of the US. The plaintiffs in that action were bondholders holding a $553 million judgment against the South American country. Another article in today’s Bloomberg News reports that Argentina's social-security administrator has asked Judge Griesa to expedite its appeal of his ruling freezing the country's transfer of its pension funds out of the US.

Pension fund nationalization in Argentina may not appear, on its face, to have implications for Americans but consider this posting from the Benefit Blog reporting on the push to have a universal pension in the US. In October, the House Committee on Education and Labor heard testimony by Prof. Teresa Ghilarducci of The New School for Social Research Department of Economics on The Impact of the Financial Crisis on Workers’ Retirement Security: Short Term and Long Term Solutions. That testimony included this proposal:
Short term, I propose that since 401(k) accounts and the like are financial institutions -- the bank about where 38% of the workforce can intend to save for their retirement -- Congress let workers trade their 401(k) and 401(k) - type plan assets (perhaps valued at mid-August prices) for a Guaranteed Retirement Account composed of government bonds (earning a 3% return, adjusted for inflation).

For researching Argentine sources of law, BLS students and facutly should consult the Foreign Law Guide on the library's database page. This subscription database is available through the BLS proxy server. Free web sites include the GlobalLex Research Guide to the Argentine Legal System. See also the Library of Congress site Portals to the World Argentina Selected Internet Sources.

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