Ghilarducci's Guaranteed Retirement Account Plan & The Macroeconomy

The last couple of weeks there’s this rumor that’s been floating around that the Government plans to do away with 401K and replace them with what is being called Guaranteed Retirement Account. The idea apparently originates from an economist, Teresa Ghilarducci, who put forward a paper “Guaranteed Retirement Accounts Toward retirement income security” in November 2007. A year after the paper was published, in the wake of one of the worst financial crises in the history of the US, the author was apparently called to testify before Congress as the paper caught the government’s eye. The paper proposes that workers “not enrolled in an equivalent or better defined-benefit pension” be enrolled in a “GRA” plan that combines the best features of defined-benefit and defined-contribution plans, offering workers guaranteed (?) retirement benefits- contributions will earn a rate of return guaranteed by the federal government. Upon retirement these funds will convert into annuities. Ghilarducci claims that combined with Social Security, these annuities will replace 70% of pre-retirement earnings (I thought most of the folks who entered the workforce within the past decade had given up ever seeing their Social Security benefits?). Participants would be guaranteed a fixed rate of return that exceeds inflation by 3 percent (but remember you are foregoing the opportunity to generate market returns on your investment- not amounting much today, which is why we are even entertaining this discussion I guess). Assuming this thing works and the Feds will be able to deliver on their promise, what will be the fallout from pulling that kind of capital out of the investment markets? Of the total $17.1 Trillion in U.S. retirement assets, mutual funds managed $2.2 Trillion, while IRAs accounted for $4.5 Trillion (data as of March 31, 2008 from Investment Company Institute). If a $0.75 Trillion bailout was going to pull us out of the financial crisis, what will be the outcome of withdrawing $6.9 Trillion out of capital markets? Or am I missing the math completely?

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