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Why We Should Never Privatize Social Security

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Privatization sounds sexy in theory, but there’s a reason Social Security is called a safety net, and all you need to do to understand why faith in markets is a recipe for disaster is look to the current situation in Italy.

From Bloomberg:

The global market meltdown has created losses for those who agreed to shift their contributions from a government severance payment plan to private funds meant to yield higher returns. Anger is rising both at the state, which promoted the change, and money managers such as UniCredit SpA and Arca Previdenza, which stood to profit.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s administration is now considering ways to compensate as many as 1.2 million people who made the switch, giving up a fixed return for private plans linked to financial markets. It’s also letting people delay redemptions on retirement funds to avoid losses after Italy’s benchmark stock index fell 50 percent in 2008, destroying 300 billion euros ($423 billion) in wealth.

“The reform didn’t help anyone,” said Gabriele Fava, who heads the Fava & Associati law firm in Milan and writes about labor law. “Not the government, which was hoping everyone would make the switch to take the strain off its coffers, nor the workers who have not resolved the problem of needing a supplement to their social security pensions.”

Leave the investing to the 401(k) accounts. Many may not be able to get in on big returns, but they’ll also avoid the big losses too.