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Dismantling SolidarityCapitalist Politics and American Pensions since the New Deal$
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Michael A. McCarthy

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780801454226

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9780801454226.001.0001

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The Retirement Puzzle

The Retirement Puzzle

(p.1) 1 The Retirement Puzzle
Dismantling Solidarity

Michael A. McCarthy

Cornell University Press

This chapter provides an overview of the book's main themes. This book analyzes the three paths followed by the development of old-age income security over the half century since the New Deal: occupational plans were adopted as a supplement to Social Security; their assets were invested by employers into the stock market; and, most recently, they were turned into 401(k) plans. In particular, it addresses three historical questions: Why was the collectively-bargained occupational pension system established after World War II in the place of real increases in Social Security benefits? Once these private systems were established, what explains the subsequent employer consolidation of pension fund control and the shift of their investment into the stock market, mimicking the investment trends in corporate finance? Why, within the system of employer-provided pensions, was there a subsequent shift toward much riskier defined-contribution plans, such as 401(k)s, away from the traditional defined-benefit plan in the late 1970s and 1980s. The book offer answers to each of these questions and provides a more general explanation of pension marketization through the use of comparative historical analysis.

Keywords:   old age income, retirement income, pension marketization, income security, defined-contribution plans, 401(k), defined-benefit plans, Social Security, private pension system

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