Privatizing retirement benefits is a mistake

Thomas Firey of the Maryland Policy Institute offers a libertarian approach to economic security in retirement ("Better pension reform," July 27).

Mr. Firey argues that because some Illinois teachers chose in 1998 not to take a "buy-in" for increasing their eventual pension benefits, Maryland state employees should be able to "buy-back" future pension benefits. The employees would receive cash now in exchange for benefits they would otherwise be entitled to when they retire, thereby reducing the state's long-term pension obligations.

This suggestion does not represent sound public policy.

The Illinois teachers who turned down an increase in their retirement pensions probably were satisfied with their existing benefits and thus chose to save their cash for other uses. This is not the same as getting cash now in exchange for a small pension in the future.

It is more like a number of schemes have surfaced in recent years for "privatization" of all insurance programs. These schemes make the employee responsible for most or all of his or her future security.

It may appear laudable for each of us to take complete charge of our affairs. But that really isn't really feasible. Many private schemes just aren't reliable; and when they prove not to be, what then?

Neil Curran, Baltimore

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