Movement to Scrap 401(k)s Gains Traction

Silicon Insider: Guaranteed Retirement Accounts gain attention in Washington.

ByABC News
September 9, 2008, 7:22 AM

Oct. 28, 2008 — -- When it comes to how we spend and save, borrow and lend, nothing in this nation will ever be the same.

I can't tell you how the financial crisis will be solved, when the Dow will return to 13,000 or if home prices will recover anytime soon. But the events of the past two months make it clear our national money habits are in for big changes.

Given that reality, there's one proposal you might want to keep an eye on. A recommendation to shake up the nation's 401(k) system is gaining traction as workers and retirees gape in horror at their investment account balances.

"Four weeks ago this plan didn't have a chance," conceded its author, Teresa Ghilarducci.

Suddenly, things have changed. Ghilarducci's proposal to create what she calls Guaranteed Retirement Accounts is gaining attention in Washington as the nation grapples with the issue of retirement security in the wake of a 40-percent-plus drop in the U.S. stock market this year.

"These last three weeks people are learning their 401(k) plans can go down," said Ghilarducci, an economist at the New School for Social Research in New York.

Called to testify before Congress earlier this month, Ghilarducci's ideas are gaining wide exposure nearly a year after she published a policy paper on the subject. She followed up that paper with a book published in May, "When I'm Sixty-Four: The Plot Against Pensions and the Plan to Save Them."

Her proposal calls for knocking down the 401(k) plan system and replacing it with a government-run pension plan funded by employee contributions. Participants would be guaranteed an inflation-beating return and a lifetime stream of income.

"What people want from their pensions is guaranteed income for life," Ghilarducci said in an interview Monday.