comment on the NYT Stephen Roach piece at Room for Debate

Stephen Roach, the well named financial analyst, was asked about the crisis in savings in Japan and the United States in the NYT’s Room for Debate the other day. His response was essentially to knock the American middle class for living beyond its means (which used to be the bright side – remember the Ownership society? Remember ‘its your money’? Ah, the Bushisms of yesteryear). Anyway, I wrote a comment which, for some reason, the NYT chose not to publish, although I can’t see that it violated any policy of theirs. So, in the interest of keeping this comment around so that I can use it later, rather than flushing it into the cybervoid, here’s a link to Roach’s article and here’s my comment.

"Nice to see Roach talk his book - let's shove more money into Wall Street via IRAs and 401Ks. - Or, lets strip them of their tax deductibility and set up government retirement and education accounts which would be tax free and offer a modest but guaranteed return of 3 percent annually, as suggested by Teresa Ghilarducci. As Jim Mosquera in ‘Escaping Oz’ puts it: “At the last major stock market bottom in 1982, American households were not that interested in owning stocks. The growth of the stock industry was aided by the creation of IRA accounts (1974) and 401(k) plans (1980). IRA accounts came during the stock market bottom of 1974 and 401k plans arrived just before the major stock market bottom of 1982. Stock ownership comprised barely 12 percent of all household financial assets in 1982, where not 2/3 of investors have half their financial assets in mutual funds. Stocks litter IRA and 401k accounts, the most precious of saving vehicles. Fifty-four percent (54%) of households own stock mutual funds and 37% own individual stocks in their IRA accounts.” In 1982, retirement was much more secure than it is now. Our experiment with stock ownership has failed. It is time to admit it, and to shrink the funds Wall Street has to play with. This will re-set Wall Street so that it becomes of use, rather than what it is now - a wasteful casino that allocates capital with maximum inefficiency - and would actually help finance the operation of the government without tax increases for the 99 percent - although of course we need to hike the 1 percent tax rate to Eisenhower levels."