Let’s think about these two words for a moment…”covet” (to yearn to possess or have something) vs. “begrudge” (to envy or resent the good fortune of someone, to be unhappy or upset because someone has something you think they do not deserve).
Most of us growing up and going to church probably believe to covet something is bad (it is a commandment after all). Is it possible though that a little coveting is a good thing? If I want something bad enough, perhaps I’ll work harder to make sure I get it. And this doesn’t just apply to material things—it could be getting in better physical shape, finishing a college degree, etc. But what does that have to do with pensions?
Unless you work in the pension world like those of us at LAGERS, you may not be aware of the relentless negative press about public pension plans. Every day we are bombarded with articles and editorials bemoaning how underfunded public pensions are, how public employees are getting rich from their pensions, how the pension “schemes” are unsustainable, etc., and how defined benefit pension plans should be done away with. In some individual cases these allegations have some truth to them. For most plans however, including LAGERS, the allegations simply don’t apply.
Why all this negative attention? One root cause is a situation commonly known as “pension envy.” Defined benefit pension plans have all but vanished in the private sector. Most of the population is not covered by a pension plan. This can then lead to thinking “if I can’t have it, why should you?” which can ultimately result in a race to the bottom.
In our lives there is always someone with something better, right? Someone with a nicer house, a better paying job, a nicer car, you name it. Sometimes people are just luckier, sometimes they work harder. In the pension plan "haves" and "have-nots", however, the difference is that the taxpayers help fund the pensions for public workers, and so they do have every right to have a say. If those same taxpayers don’t have a pension, it’s very possible they could resent, or begrudge, the fact that the public worker has one. But what if we could change the question from “If I can’t have it, why should you?” to “I like what you have, how can I get that?” This idea is what led LAGERS to the vision statement we adopted late last year…”A secure retirement for all.” We truly believe every working person deserves to retire with financial security and dignity.
If my neighbor has a nicer car, which I covet, then I have choices. I can do what it takes to be able to afford such a car, I can just be happy for him that he’s doing so well and accept that I can’t afford a car like that, or I can light his car on fire so he doesn’t have the car either. That last one is silly, right? And illegal of course. Yet it actually seems at times that’s the intent—to destroy the traditional defined benefit plan. Yet if no one had the financial security to retire, what would come of our society? At some point due to the natural consequences of aging, people simply have to leave the work force. As a society we aren’t going to allow our elder population to live in poverty, are we? As taxpayers we can pay now or we can pay later, but we will pay.
At LAGERS we believe that with the right plan design and proper funding, the defined benefit plan is the best way to pay now and allow people to retire with a reasonable income that is secure and can be relied upon for the rest of their lives, however long that may be. Even though our vision of a secure retirement for all may never fully come to be, we will continue to promote the message in hopes that more people, not fewer, are covered by a defined benefit plan. Our Executive Secretary and Member Services team in particular work diligently to educate all stakeholders on this very idea. If you know of a group that would benefit from hearing this message, please contact us!