Yet another warning in my inbox this morning from the C.D. Howe Institute (full disclosure: my brother runs the place and was co-author of the study) about how the federal government continues systematically and dramatically to understate the unfunded liability in its employee pension plans. It may seem like a sleeper. But one day it will wake up and it won’t be pleasant.
According to authors William Robson and Alexandre Laurin, the feds admit to roughly a $150 billion shortfall. But the real figure is $269 billion. And, they say, if the difference were added to the national debt (as the admitted amount already is) it would stand at $730 billion not $612 billion.
It goes without saying that you should not try this sort of thing at home. The government would not like it.
It’s a Three Fold Total Bad. In the first place, it’s deliberately dishonest. C.D. Howe has been warning about it for years and they are not some radical right-wing outfit prone to bungling or torqueing their calculations.
In the second, it’s fiscally reckless. Even the move to have federal employees fund their pensions more fully is undermined, that other Robson and Laurin note, because they calculate the amount required according to the understated figure. And all the blather about how debt is small and manageable as a share of GDP is also undermined by such jiggery pokery.
In the third, it’s yet another case of people in government cutting themselves a great big generous slice of pie while the rest of us tighten our belts in hard times and, when we look at them sidewise, go “What? What?” as though their cheeks were not bulging. Whatever happens, federal employees will collect generous pensions they have not paid for. Even if the rest of us have to be taxed within an inch of bankruptcy to make it happen.
Then they wonder why government is in disrepute nowadays. All the way to the bank.
Of course, they’re counting on us to sleep through the various alarms. But this is no time to hit the snooze button.
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