Your Retirement Funds to Bail Out Failed Banks?

With the recent spotlight on a runaway Prius, few are paying any attention to the latest government plan to bail out failing banks with retirement money.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., according to Bloomberg, now thinks it’s a good idea for public retirement funds over about $2 trillion to “buy out all or part of failed lenders.”

Last year alone, the FDIC reportedly shut down close to 150 banks, and it expects even more banks to fail this year. But, a quick look at how the largest companies, like General Motors, are currently investing their employees’ pension funds is guaranteed to make a shiver up and down the spine of every working American. And, two things become clear: 1) your pension funds are at risk, and 2) any bank that depends upon your pension fund is also at risk.

It’s not breaking news that the money we depend upon to be there in our retirement is invested by those corporations who hold it in trust for us just as it’s common knowledge that money deposited into bank accounts doesn’t sit there looking pretty until it’s withdrawn.

But, what has changed is that corporations are now effectively “going to Las Vegas,” as a Dallas investor recently told the New York Times, with our pensions. It’s no longer about buying stocks, but investing has now expanded into junk bonds, commodity futures, and foreign stocks, too.

More importantly, companies may soon use public pension fund revenue that they’re exposing to increasing risk to rescue failing banks and with FDIC blessing.

Okay, it breaks down quite simply like this: XYZ Corporation has a public pension fund in which John Jones’ retirement savings are being kept. XYZ Corporation decides to take a bite of Jones’ pension account and invest it in commodities with an eye to using the revenue from that investment to bail out Granny’s Bank. XYZ can sleep easy knowing that whatever money it invests in Granny’s Bank is federally insured, so if there is a loss, it will ultimately be the FDIC who will pick up the tab.

What a monstrous idea that the FDIC should be looking at retirement money as a safety net for failed lenders!

If the idea is to stabilize the lending industry by allowing corporations to gamble with their employees’ savings and then, in effect, turn the pension funds over to a failing bank, who wins? It’s simply risk multiplied exponentially. And, ultimately, it’s not the banks, or the corporations, who are taking the risk, but John Jones because when the FDIC runs out of money, or decides to lower the amount it insures as is all but inevitable, it is the worker who will lose.

While the banks, and pension administrators, are traditionally reticent about their plans, some regulators are said to be debating whether or not letting private corporations take over failing banks is a good thing because they may not only be jeopardizing federally protected deposits, but may use the bank as collateral, or sell it for profit.

When the regulators get in bed with the risk takers, the only ones who win are the ones who hold the mortgage, and more and more it looks like, by 2050, the only question you may expect when applying for U.S. citizenship will be “Will that be Mandarin or Szechuan?”

What this plan is really about is having the FDIC bail out not banks but corporations who incur losses by making risky investments with your retirement money. Once again, it’s “score one for the corporations!” Public pension funds becomes an extra layer of padding for fortune 500s in a financially cold climate, and essentially it’s the individual, not the corporation, who is taking the risk.

Somebody seems to have gotten it backwards. The banks are supposed to bail us out in an emergency and not the other way around. Thomas Jefferson said it best two hundred years ago: “if the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of currency… the banks and corporations that will grow up around them will deprive the people of their prosperity until their children wake up homeless on the continent their Fathers conquered.”

JAYNE LYN STAHL is a widely published poet, essayist, playwright, and screenwriter, member of PEN American Center, and PEN USA.



JAYNE LYN STAHL is a widely published poet, essayist, playwright, and screenwriter, member of PEN American Center, and PEN USA.