This is from modest returns and low rates causing ‘savers’ to have to pony up more to provide future nominal incomes.

And it’s a drag on aggregate demand which should be a good thing, as it means we can have lower taxes for any given size govt.
But instead, of course, we let it keep unemployment high and the output gap wide in general.

Pensions & Investments News Alerts:

Verizon to dial up $1.26 billion for pension plans

Boeing to add $1.5 billion to pension plans in 2012

Raytheon, Lockheed Martin to add billions to pension plans

Ford to roll out $3.5 billion in pension contributions

61 Responses

  1. Can you explain why this is a fiscal drag? I need to wrap my head around this savings concept. It seems you’re saying pension plan contributions are like placing money under a pillow?

    Where does the money go that pension plans invest? The investments don’t contribute to demand?

    1. @wh10, Retirement funds are deferred consumption; the money would otherwise be used for current business investment or personal consumption. The lower and lower interest rate environment requires ever greater amounts to be saved to create the same amount of current income, especially as we approach zero rates. This is another reason why lower long term interest rates are causing more harm than good. It not only removes income in the form of interest, it also forces everyone to save more in their retirement accounts.
      Bring back the limited purchase non-tradable bonds that can not be purchased by financial institutions or central banks. Grandma deserves a 5 or 6% interest/transfer payment for responsibly saving during her working years.

      1. @Ryan,

        “Retirement funds are deferred consumption; the money would otherwise be used for current business investment or personal consumption”

        Okay – but don’t those retirement funds go to PE/VC firms, into equities, corporate debt, etc etc? Why is that less stimulative than current business investment or personal consumption?

      2. @wh10, WH, I think that is the traditional neo-classical argument based on hypothesis. Lower interest rates should equate to more investment and consumption because of the lower price of money. You can easily see if this is true. The total amount of outstanding bonds should increase inversely with rates if companies and consumers are using the additional investment funds for investment and consumption.
        But when we look at the evidence, it doesn’t pan out. Take a look at the outstanding GSE and Housing Mortgage Debt for example as interest rates have fallen in the last 4 years,
        Outstanding Private & GSE Bonds:

        2008 – 11,606 (Billions)
        2009 – 11,234
        2010 – 11,054
        2011 – 10,896

        If the neo-classical argument were true, then the lower rates should have increased the amount of mortgage debt outstanding, but it didn’t. There was a tremendous amount of refinancing to lower rates but a net reduction in the total amount of debt. Same follows for other types of debt, like credit cards or corporate debt. Outstanding corporate bond volume rose in the same period but was mostly offset by falls in commercial paper and bank loans and larger current balances until very recently.
        The lower interest rates changed the price of the financial assets but not the quantity.

      3. @wh10,
        Thanks for the example. But that extra savings of $6K, going into pension funds or whatever, goes *somewhere.* Where does it go? Are you saying that unless the next person spends all of it, then there is necessarily a net loss in consumption?

      4. @Ryan,

        I am not purposely trying to make a neoclassical argument. I understand how low rates drain NFA from the economy. But what I don’t understand is where the money from pension contributions goes (they are necessarily being invested in something and being given to someone) and why it is less stimulate than consumption or direct business investment.

        Mosler sees it as a demand leakage. I’m trying to udnerstand why (where does it leak to)?

      5. @wh10, For an anecdotal example imagine this:
        If you go from 6% interest to 3% return on long term rates,
        a median worker would have to save maybe a million instead of 600K to retire with 4,000 per month. If they had a $150,000 mortgage, their payment is reduced by $3204/yr and that amount is available for additional consumption. But they have to save $14,000 per year for retirement instead of $4700/yr. So the net loss in consumption should be expected to be about $6096.

      6. @wh10, “goes *somewhere.*”

        For now, at least, judging from the quantity of bonds issued by the private sector, there has little additional productive investment. People have simply been bidding up the price of the financial assets to higher and higher levels. Think capital gains for traders, like Gross or Gundlach and their 10% annual returns on 3 or 4% yielding bonds without leverage. Take a peek at the trading terminal on bond prices. Those 1980 and 90s bonds that paid 7-10% interest now cost maybe 50% more than they did a couple years ago. I don’t know if there has been an increase in the amount of outstanding stocks. There are more government bonds… maybe the government found the interest rates compelling and decided to spend more. LOL. I don’t know.

      7. @wh10,

        “where does it leak to”

        One way to think of it is through a conventional velocity of money argument. Firms that have earned income are swapping their cash for other financial assets, through the pension contribution process. At the macro level, that just clears financial asset positions relative to real investment that’s already been made. There’s no knock on demand for new real investment. The financial offset to real investment clears through financial markets in any event, so new pension contributions are another layer in that clearing process. One alternative scenario would have been to use that same money stock position to increase demand for new real investment. That would have increased money velocity, de facto (where velocity is measured to GDP as opposed to financial asset turnover). So there’s “leakage” in the sense that this didn’t happen, due to the diversion of that money into financial asset swaps.

      8. @Ryan, “Grandma deserves a 5 or 6% interest/transfer payment for responsibly saving during her working years.”

        Ryan you seem rather naive, Grandma better be watching out for the death squads – she got bigger problems than finances! (per the enron energy traders and grandma millie)
        (jon stewarts parody)

        (the original clip)

        (grandma getting killed by the deathsquad)

        Ryan since you are so concerned about grandmas, stop thinking in monetary terms, when is the last time you went to where lotsa grandmas are and donated some of your personal time to helping them? Like nursing care facilities or food delivery or things like that? Maybe its time to stop expecting Gubbmint to do for them and instead take matters into your own hands? I feel sorry for a lot of kids today, they aren’t having any babies, and when they get old, who is gonna visit them and care for them? Ayn Rand had her books, she didn’t need any kids (snicker)

    2. supposed no one spent any income and instead put it into their pension plan.

      the funds would at first be directly or indirectly invested in unsold inventory.

      and with no sales there would quickly be no jobs and no income to not spend.

      so if there is income to not spend, and it goes into a pension fund, some other agent has to be spending more than his income.

      which means there has to have been more govt or non govt deficit spending or more unsold inventory, or a shift in savings from
      some other place to the pension fund, etc.

      in other words, any unspent income per se is a reduction of demand vs having spent it.
      it’s not about ‘where it goes’ as its a case of loans create deposits.
      the unspent income *is* a deposit of some kind in the first place, moving from one financial asset to another as it’s spent, invested, etc.

      1. although I suppose unsold inventories of “investment goods” qualifies as part of it, along with new orders for investment goods

      2. @WM,

        “dollars in pension funds ‘come from’ unspent income.”

        Unspent by the corporate pension contributor, but not necessarily unspent by somebody else at the macro level.

        Bank B lends to corporation A which invests. Corporation C a supplier ends up with earnings which it holds as a deposit with Bank B. Corporation C contributes that deposit to the pension fund.

        That’s saving by Corporation C, transferred in kind as saving to its pension fund, which corresponds from there to investing by Corporation A.

        Corporation C might have invested/spent instead, which is what you’re talking about.

        That’s a velocity/multiplier effect which adds to spending, but it’s a second round effect – a second round of spending which will produce more income for somebody else.

        But there’s already been first round of spending in either case – with or without the pension contribution.

        The money is not necessarily unspent in that sense, and not unspent in this example at the macro level.

        And it’s always the case that somebody has to end up with unspent income by your definition; otherwise you get an infinite multiplier on financial assets, which is ridiculous.

        This is marginally contractionary when compared to a constructed counterfactual, but so is any saving held in a bank deposit that stops circulating for a moment.

      3. @WARREN MOSLER,

        That’s as a good of a quick summary of DIF no. 5 as I’ve seen.

        An injunction that helps me keep this one straight, and may help others of your readers too, is this:

        Don’t think of where the savings must go, think instead of where the investment to finance them must come from.

        As so often with MMT (and this is something it shares with Keynesianism a al Keynes), the difficulty of understanding comes from the radical, but necessary, reversal of perspectives on very familiar phenomena, that suddenly make them look quite unfamiliar & strange.

  2. It’s probably going to all add up to about the $80B the Fed just sent back over to the Treasury…. Doh!!!


  3. If the fed buys up short term bonds there is little or maybe nothing in interest. But if he buys ten year bonds it will lower the interest income, no doubt. But then the investor might have a capial gain on the sale or he can hold it to maturity and collect the interest. Buying long bonds though does take it out of the economy. How does all this stuff affect the deficit?

  4. Makes sense, Warren. You don’t have an issue with low rates, actually advocate zero rates, but it’s the failure to accompany that with increases in net spending that is the problem.

    Curious from this perspective, however, the unfunded liability contributions resulting from this come out of hoarded cash balances that maybe, perhaps, would have been paid out as dividends at best in this environment, or stock buybacks, but I understand the lost retirement income from lower rates is a drag.

      1. @WARREN MOSLER,

        Hypothetical but this shift of unspent income/savings from corporations to households may mitigate some of the increase in household savings desires? Households more prone to consume where corporation’s savings desires are influenced by sales or the lack thereof? Obviously not the desired effect that increases in net public sector spending.

      2. @Macrosam,

        That’s an interesting thought. The $1T or so offshore corporate earnings could be repatriated with something like the REIT tax rules. Tax-free at the corporate level so long as 90%+ of earnings are passed through to shareholders as a dividend (taxed at ordinary income tax rates).

        it’d be in that unusual category of stimulative and deficit reducing.

      3. @Warren Mosler,

        “why does repatriation matter for the real economy?”

        Because it presents an opportunity for hoarded retained earnings to move to households? And the repatriation of foreign affiliate profits is somewhat comparable to an increase in export revenues, no? Since the US takes more of globalization approach than traditional exporting (for sales, that is, not for back-and-forth flows that all fall within the US corp’s virtual walls for the most part), the “build local, sell local” profits come back to the US somewhat like export revenues would have had there not been the globalization push?

        Could be pension contributions, could be dividend payments, if it’s the latter, dividend yields are higher than coupon interest on US Treasuries for the most part.

        I don’t see this as being substantial but corporations hoarding cash with no incentive to invest tells me I’d rather have that cash in the hands of households.

      4. how does a corporation shifting its $ balance in its ‘offshore’ checking account to one in a domestic checking account ‘move to households’?

        how is it an increase in any revenues? are there corporations who would spend if only they could shift dollars from the citibank london account to their citibank ny account?
        i sincerely doubt it. for one thing they can always borrow against the london account, or spend out of it directly. for another they all seem to be cash rich.

        are any corps currently constrained from making pension contributions or paying dividends due to cash in offshore bank accounts?
        i’ve never heard of any such thing.

      5. @Macrosam,
        I don’t see this as being substantial but corporations hoarding cash with no incentive to invest tells me I’d rather have that cash in the hands of households.

        I’d agree with that.

      6. @WARREN MOSLER,

        Don’t disagree, just seem to recall in 2004 what resulted from repatriation was dividends paid.

        If there is a tax repatriation holiday, then, you don’t expect any potential fallback in issuance? I interpreted some of the rationale towards issuance being due to more favorable debt servicing costs compared to tax expense.

      7. it’s all possible, but i’d say unlikely. there may be some debt issuance that can be reduced, etc. but i don’t see any macro consequences of substance

  5. Warren, I have heard you mention this a lot in the past 18 mos or so since I started reading your stuff.

    Dismissed it as a non-issue and incorrectly assumed it only pissed off wall street PMs.

    Looks to be playing out exactly as you’ve been saying.

    I do still think the JG idea is naive and needs to be looked at from a few more angles by the econs.

    I’ve read your resume up and down and haven’t noticed any experience with supervising or managing employees in manufacturing and basic services(commonly held by those w/o advanced degrees)…

    A temp job in this type of role could be a pleasant change up for you from scrutinizing the meat wads in DC.

    1. @Inoculated, Go to the corporation wiki and check out warren’s businesses, from his car company to his soap company to his plane company to his bank, a jack of all trades can be master of none eh? 😉 I don’t think you have done enough research.

      Anyways let me ask you this, how does a RENAISSANCE man like warren who even has patents on various things can’t get to be a senator, but comediam al franken (of stuart smalley) can? Certainly Warren is vastly more qualified than SENATOR AL Franken, the people get the government they deserve 😉

      1. @Save America, Ha, good response. But I think the level of employee reporting to Warren has little in common with the average member of our employment challenged group.

        It’s a little different motivating people with double to triple digit bonuses as opposed to an $8.50/hr job…

        Getting employees to show up for work (sobriety is a bonus) in the great state of Mass paying triple minimum wage, is challenging enough. In my experience, almost all of our layoffs are not from lack of demand but from incompetence, attendance and substance abuse. These issues are common throughout manufacturing.

        JG has a nice look to it on paper but in it’s current state will never be taken seriously. And rightfully so.

      2. my three proposals remain
        1. a fica suspension
        2. $500 per capita revenue for the state govs
        3. $8 transition job for anyone willing and able to work to assist the transition from unemployment to private sector employment

        you have problem with ‘3.’ ???

  6. Warren, you keep saying taxes versus size of government, and I infer you mean we should reduce taxes, perhaps, but looking over the past 50 years,

    It seems government has not really grown much in 50 years, where are the anti-reagan’s out there advocating a MASSIVE increase in government while taxes remain the same to counter this armageddon of an unemployment situation that is certain to harm us all. I am sure the tom hickey communists are all for more government expansion. I just listened to bill moyers on NPR yesterday talking with senator byron dorgan about the repeal of glass-steagal and how sandy weil would go around and tell everyone we need change so that we can get RICHER. Former business partners were ashamed to associate with Sandy Weil because he was so openly greedy and corrupt. How does such an OPENLY GREEDY SELF SERVING sociopath get vetted and arrive at such positions of power in our society? Certainly a better functioning and more regulated government would have counter balanced a corrupt Sandy Weil?

    How do al frankens become senators while warren moslers sit around sailing and fishing (which is certainly of less use to society in general than you doing hard political work in congress everyday)

    I just attended a chinese labor conference and many westerners wondered how can the chinese go a year or more and not get payed, they found it fascinating that you get room and board and other things in exchange for work, this concept is very alien to people used to getting paid by the week or month and finding thier own housing and food arrangements.

    How all these pensions can continue to assume 8% annual returns is fascinating.

  7. @Inoculated, Yes, love the first two. The third is your red headed step child. To summarize my reasons posted above:

    There is more to getting people to perform value creating work than simply throwing a job out there and expecting people behave appropriately.

    I think the correct solution will involve taking a more in depth look at what motivates people to work and create value, more in line with what they are capable of.

    Maybe there are more comprehensive answers out there that I am missing. But as of now, I have yet to see them all together in an adequately succinct piece.

    We can all see the tension on this issue at every MMT site. Let’s give it a little more thought.

    1. ok, there’s more to it.

      yes, better for workers to be ‘tailored’ to needs

      yes, there are certainly more comprehensive answers.


      those are not ‘downsides’ to offering the $8 jobs as i outlined.

      seems to me the $8 job is far better then leaving everyone unemployed without that option.

      unless you have a bias towards higher inflation?

      1. @WARREN MOSLER, My ‘point’ is that JG comes across as socialist. Whether or not you intend it to be is irrelevant. It will never be taken seriously in its current state and will continue to harm your other ideas until you rethink it’s implications and how you convey it.

        Warren, you are one of the few politicians I can see hope in – and can tolerate paying attention to.

        If you want something that might be useful someday, again, I would take a closer look. If you are happy with how good looking it is on paper. Carry on.

      2. and a fica suspension comes across as defunding social security

        i make it look the best i can- framing it as a transition job to help the transition from unemployment to private sector employment to help prevent inflation from labor bottlenecks and to expand the available private sector labor force.

        so far that’s as good as it gets.

      3. @WARREN MOSLER, FICA suspension is a cut and dry argument. It can be implemented immediately, requires no government management (pretty hard for them to screw it up) and its outcome can be measured. Hence the much less resistance encountered compared to JG.

        Managing the employment of ~13 mill people is a little more involved.

        Guaranteed jobs didn’t work out so well for the first countries that come to mind – Russia, Cuba, North Korea… I do understand what you intend is different, but these are the thoughts that come to mind. The soft aspects, such as providing proper incentive to work, matter.

        Besides when the first two proposals work out so well we won’t even need the 3rd.

      4. first, this is a transition job implemented at the same time as the fica suspension,
        so i expect the private sector to be net hiring maybe north of 500,000 per month.

        second, as previously discussed, i would first allow any federal govt. supervisors to hire any additional staff they
        want that wants to work for the $8 wage. Then extend the offer to state and local. then non profits.
        can’t be too many left after that to work directly for the administrator of the program, the fed.

      5. @Inoculated,

        “Managing the employment of ~13 mill people is a little more involved.”

        The private sector has no chance of dealing with that then if the government, with all its resources, can’t do it.

  8. “There is more to getting people to perform value creating work than simply throwing a job out there and expecting people behave appropriately.”

    The value creating work they perform is to spend the money you give them into the economy. If they don’t do that then the production system won’t be signalled to produce anything for them.

    So very simply if they spend money you get value. If they don’t then nobody gets anything more and the economies of scale get redistributed onto the items that did get produced making them more expensive for everybody else.

    So anything you get from these people above their use as consumption units to ensure the economy operates at full capacity is a bonus. And the main bonus is that they are employed and demonstrably so – which then reduce the risk for any private sector entity hiring them.

    Reduced risk = cheaper prices. Hence how the transition job helps anchor the price of labour.

    Very simply you don’t get anything more by having these people sat idle. In fact you get less because labour is more expensive and there is less economies of scale in production.

  9. And what do you tell the employees who show up for work on time every day, work hard and create direct value for our country?

    Are you going to give them an economics lecture on how it’s better to provide their lazy co-worker with identical value to redistribute?

    How are the productive employees distinguished in your transition job from the un-productive ones? What ensures they get a better shot at a private sector?

    1. @Inoculated, I talked to a china expert at berkeley last night. China has a class of “migrants” that have detached from thier home areas, floating freely from city to city. I asked were these workers thinking on a larger global scale for employing thier skills, was told they have gotten significant pay raises over the past few years in China and since they have detached from home and are mobile, global opportunities are beginning to interest them. I said what about all my USA plumber friends/truck drivers/etc who make 20 an hour and think they have a job that can’t be “outsourced” and lost to foreign competition?

      If the floodgates open to these people to come to USA (canada already having an issue), how do you compete Inoculated? 90 million surplus of men just in china alone, skilled and trained, willing to work for sustanance food and shanty housing compartively speaking, why should I employ you, a western worker with western expectations, when I can employ this other person who will work just as hard and harder for much less pay and expectations. I am looking at all these kids at berkeley, bright, geniuses, but the grant money has dried up, and chindia is going to obliterate thier current expectations for employment.

      These bright westernized kids show up everyday for class, they are very knowledgeable and motivated, they study hard, but the supply coming from chindia is too great, game over. What have you done to ensure your own job security Inoculated? What is to stop your employer from replacing you with chindians who will do it for 5 times less and be ecstatic for the opportunity?

    2. @Inoculated,

      Private sector employees should not be made to compete with JG workers. JG workers should not receive as much in pay and benefits as your employees “who show up for work on time every day, work hard and create direct value for our country”. JG workers should not be working in private sector companies, except, perhaps, for a limited time as trainees, so that the company can afford to hire and train vs. hiring already-skilled imported workers.

      There is no distinction in JG between “productive” and “unproductive” workers. Whoever shows up and works gets paid. No show, no pay.

      I think the work they do should be mainly what is currently staffed by volunteers at charitable organizations, like food banks or Habitat for Humanity. They should also be paid for time working on resumes or applying for jobs.

      It would be helpful, I think, that those who did a good job at it should have some evidence of that to show to a prospective employer. Perhaps the government in an employer capacity could make some sort of performance reporting available to prospective employers, without being subject to the liability concerns that prevent current private employers from giving any more of a reference than “Yes, he worked here from then to then”.

  10. Can’t wait to hire them. Some of my best employees came over from Portugal years ago. They are crucial to the success of my business. My questions are in support of them. Immigration is a different argument.

  11. When a company adds money to a pension plan, the plan can either put it into government bonds or buy some real (non-financial) asset, like shares of stock or corporate bonds.

    If it goes to government bonds, it is merely an exchange of financial assets, and the seller of the bonds gets the cash, and presumably will spend it, perhaps hoard some of it, just as the corporation might have done had it not put it into the pension plan. Clearly the seller had some reason for preferring the cash rather than the bonds.

    If it goes to buy stocks, then the seller of the stocks now has the money, and will presumably spend it, perhaps hoard some of it, etc.

    What am I missing, that makes the pension contribution less good for the economy than the corporation simply hoarding the entire amount itself, or exchanging it for government bonds or real assets such as stocks?

    1. any unspent income is a demand leakage.

      yes, the holder of cash can buy bonds at any time.

      interest rates gravitate to actual indifference levels, for whatever reason.

      hence negative tsy bill yields now and then.

      and at the close of business each day someone will be holding all the ‘cash’

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