Saturday, October 31, 2009

Sustainable Pensions

It's not news that pension funds nationwide have taken a beating, and face tall challenges if they are to meet the overly-optimistic commitments which have been made.
As a retiree, I am very concerned about a CalPERS investment strategy that is fixated on a numerical target such as 7.75% ROI, rather than on investments which are sensible and low-risk. Personally, I would prefer to see relatively small reductions in my modest stipend if they meant that CalPERS would have the flexibility to abstain from unrealistic or uncomfortably high risk.
The selfish attitude of too many civil servants, that they should get what has been promised no matter who else suffers, could easily erode everyone's quality of life as local and state governments gut basic services now and in the future.
Retirees, many of whom receive stipends that dwarf mine, should have options to give back some of the money in return for considerations such as having the capital that has been set aside on their behalf invested in more conservative and less risky ways.
Another alternative would be investing such capital in truly sustainable ways that could directly benefit such wise pensioners.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

I'm Voting For JJ Jelincic

JJ and I sat down yesterday afternoon for a discussion of CalPERS, economics, and sustainability. After almost 2 hours of a wide-ranging conversation, I feel that his understanding of CalPERS as an organization, the details and structure of the financial system as a whole, and the practice of ethical politics, all make him an excellent choice for helping protect our retirement security and strengthen CalPERS operations. Apparently he had been considering running for at least a year before making a definite decision about a year ago.
While my ideas about how best to achieve sustainability, and related concepts about economics, are unusual, he understood these ideas well enough and readily enough that our conversation was for me an enjoyable discussion and meeting of two informed and independent minds. I believe we both learned some valuable information and concepts.
He listed 4 key reasons for running:
1. having a board member with his level of investment expertise
2. cutting costs by bringing money management in-house and reducing the use of contractors and consultants, and also reining in top staff salaries
3. defending defined benefit pensions in general
4. improving corporate governance

However, I have not yet had the opportunity for a similar discussion with Cathy Hackett, which I hope will take place later this month. Still, I should state for the record that I am somewhat skeptical of unions in their role nowadays, although more skeptical about corporations. Union leadership often seems to focus on money only and not on the larger leadership of ensuring a robust economy that can actually meet everyone's needs. And they are not always open to new ideas, such as when Bill Camp and the Labor Council didn't even bother to talk to me before making an endorsement in Sacramento's 2008 mayoral race.
Nov. 5 update: Having never had an opportunity to discuss economics and CalPERS management with Cathy Hackett, I cannot know if I would have changed my mind. But maybe she didn't really want to respond to my questions.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Another Predatory Investment Comes Home To Roost

Today's paper had more news about investment woes at CalPERS. It turns out that this isn't exactly new news.
As in East Palo Alto, this ill-timed real estate venture is all about dispossessing renters and profiting from gentrification. But apparently the tenants were tenacious, being as fond of their homes as anyone.
Especially nowadays.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Healthy Lives Essential to Wellness

Rep. Matsui and CalPERS Board Chair Feckner explain - and advocate - how to fix our health care system, and why we need to.
But as long as we continue to live the lifestyle common in the over-developed countries, this fix won't stick. We need to use less fossil fuel, less sugar and white flour, less paperwork, and do a lot more walking, gardening, and traditional crafts that are the foundation of local self-reliance and sustainability.
Now, half the people do all the paperwork, a quarter of the people run the machines, and a quarter of the people are either homeless or filthy rich. We need a 20-hour workweek so people have time to take care of themselves and their families, and live a healthy balanced life.
Discussions about economic welfare never address the insecurity of a very uncertain future for this economic system, and of not knowing how your town will be able to take care of itself locally. We need to de-develop in order to achieve the greatest economic security for the greatest number.