Spanish Government makes official the Looting of Pension Funds

By LUIS MIRANDA | THE REAL AGENDA | SEPTEMBER 29, 2012

It did not take too long for the Spanish government to dip into the rapidly disappearing pension fund reserves. After presenting its 2013 budget, the Finance Minister Cristobal Montoro announced that the government led by Mariano Rajoy will make use of Social Security, retirement and other supplemental funds to help with the liquidity problems the central government faces as it becomes more expensive for Spain to meet its obligations.

The Executive now counts the 3,063 million from the Social Security Reserve Fund as part of its budget, which it now has stolen from Spanish people who saved and paid into the system for decades. The Social Security Fund has become the piggy bank to obtain quick cash after the Social Security administration itself had tapped into the reserve at the beginning of September, because it did not have enough money to make the payments to its contributors. Ironically, the government has also announced an increase of 1% in pension payments for 2013, which makes one wonder where will the money come from if the system cannot even afford to send the checks out now.

The Government approved the reform plan imposed by the European Union which is a commitments from the Memorandum that opens the door to ask for financial assistance in the form of credit to bailout Spanish banks with a maximum of 100,000 million euro, but that consultants estimate will be of around 53,000 million euros.

The State Budget for 2013 is included in the so-called Spanish Strategy for Economic Policy and a plan that includes up to 43 laws specified in the Official State Gazette (BOE).

The macroeconomic conditions used to create this new budget have not changed from the last time which was filed with the same spending ceiling. Thus, the official forecast remains that GDP will contract by 0.5% in 2013. This is a very optimistic figure when compared to other analysis services such as the one issues by Citi, who expects a decline of 3.3%.

State spending will grow in 5.6% in 2013, mainly due to interest on the debt in the next year, which will amount to some 10,000 million euros. The total amount to be paid in interests for loans requested by the Spanish government will reach nearly 38,000 million euros.

The Deputy Prime Minister, Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, said that this budget contains more spending adjustments than changes in income. In it, 58% corresponds to expenditures, while 42% refers to income. She said that the government remains committed to social spending, which will represent 63.6% of total expenditure. The only items that increase are: pensions, grants and debt interests that make up the increase in government spending.

According to the budget, tax revenue projections for this year will be met fully. For 2013, it is expected that non-financial income will increase to 4% over budget, and 2.6% on budget execution.

The government expects to collect 4.375 million euros with the implementation of new tax measures, increasing taxes and fees included in the 2013 budget. The greatest impact on revenue will come from corporate taxes, the document says, by eliminating the deduction for depreciation for large companies, which will provide 2.371 million euros.

It creates a new 20% tax on lottery prizes, which will affect 40% of the prizes that exceed 2,500 euros. In total, the tax will add 824 million euros to the state coffers. Taxes on net worth will collect 700 million euros. These 1524 million euros will join together with 90 million euros that the government will obtain from eliminating the tax deduction on the purchase of primary residences, which was announced last July.

With these figures, the government has assured Europe that it will comply with its goal to keep the deficit below 4.5% of GDP for 2013.

The Real Agenda encourages the sharing of its original content ONLY through the use of the tools provided at the bottom of every article. Please DON’T copy articles from The Real Agenda and redistribute by email or post to the web, unless you request and receive written permission to do so. If permission is granted, you must publish the article EXACTLY as it appears on The Real Agenda.

Spain Officially under Brussels Rule

By requesting a financial bailout of its banking system and accepting all measures recommended by Brussels, Spain has effectively walked into the wolf’s den.

By LUIS MIRANDA | THE REAL AGENDA | JUNE 26, 2012

The reaction to Spain’s decision to accept a financial bailout for its banking system had immediate reactions everywhere in that country and abroad. First, the decision to request over $100 billion dollars to Brussels to rescue what the country’s Prime Minister says is 30 percent of the banks caused the collapse of the stock market. Second, by the mid afternoon, the adoption of new rules from the European bankers caused Moody’s to downgrade 28 Spanish banks and left Spain’s credit rating just above junk status. Third, The European Union will, as it did with other countries that were rescued, assumed complete power of the budgetary policy of the Spanish government.

On Thursday, European finance ministers will meet to discuss the details of the latest European rescue which implies that Spain will have to adopt every single recommendations originated in Brussels. Any violation to such rules will consequently bring harsh penalties against the peninsular nation. Another issue that will be discussed on Thursday and Friday will be the guidelines that the European government will give each nation that requested a bailout in regards to the supervision that the euro zone leaders will exercise over the banking system and the amount that each government will spend, how and when they will spend it.

Now that Spain is in the bag, European leaders like Herman Van Rompuy, Jose Manuel Barroso, Jean-Claude Juncker and Mario Draghi are proposing to establish a system where there is complete centralized control over the financial sector in each of the countries which will include the economic and budgetary matters. In Spain, economists and TV commentators are already analysing the implications of such a decision, since Spain has no longer anything to say about what is done with its finances. The Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has said on national television that new and more difficult measures are still to come. Those measures include a 10 percent increase in the sales taxes, which will reach 18 percent. This increase is surely to affect the prices and food and other basic needs.

After the increase in the sales tax or IVA, Spain will have to ‘reform’ its pension system, which will mean that Brussels will also take control over the retirement of millions of Spanish people. Those who have contributed into the retirement system, will have to retire later and take a significant haircut to their benefits once they decide to stop working. That is if they receive any retirement benefits at all. Additionally, the government will also propose a cut in the salaries it pays to workers in the public sector and a considerable reduction in the number of people it will employ once Brussels recommendations are effective.

Although the details of Spain’s bailout are not fully disclosed to the public or the media, leaks provided to some economists in that country detail that the country will have to take care of the bankers’ debt for at least the next quarter of a century while paying an interest rate of between 3 and 5 percent. Spain’s incapacity to meet its obligations was the caused cited by Moody’s for its most recent downgrade, Meanwhile, and as a consequence of such downgrade, Spain will have to continue paying higher interest rates at bond auctions. This situation would get even worse of Spain needed another financial bailout in the near future.

French junior budget minister Jerome Cahuzac, one of the people who meets today with the rest of his European colleagues to work out the details of Brussels meeting on Thursday, has said that it is only fair that Spain also submits its sovereignty just as his own country and many others in the euro zone have done it as a condition to receive so-called rescue packages. “This is what we are talking about, budget solidarity in Europe which implies that not only that the French budget, but also the German, Italian and Spanish budgets be subjected to a review by all our partners,” Cahuzac said.

As we reported yesterday, Spain is now finalizing a memorandum of understanding which will be presented before the Eurogroup on July 9, where the final decisions will be made by the 17 finance ministers who work on behalf of the European bankers. The Spanish economy minister explained that the money loaned to Spain will be managed through the Fund for Orderly Bank Restructuring (FROB), which is supposed to be a state-backed cashier, but that in reality is a banker-controlled window that dictates where will the funds recently requested by Spain will be directed.

As it has happened throughout Europe, most of the measures adopted by governments to supposedly deal with the economic crisis have only tightened the belt of the working class, the people who always take on the heaviest burden when banks decide to collapse a country’s financial and economic system. In the case of Spain, as we have said, the financial rescue of its banks means prices going through the roof, later retirement, less or no retirement benefits, a reduction in the purchasing power for the middle and lower classes and a perpetual state of indebtedness for the next 2 or 3 generations of Spanish people, who will have to work all of their lives to pay the debt incurred into by the Spanish banking system.

Chile’s Private Social Security Prospering

by Bob Adelmann
The New American

As a quiet example of how privatizing Social Security works in the real world, Chile’s 30-year experiment is succeeding beyond expectations. Instead of running huge deficits to fund the old “PayGo” system, private savings now exceed50 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product.

Prior to May 1, 1981, the Chilean system required contributions from workers and was clearly in grave financial trouble. Instead of nibbling around the edges to shore up the program for another few years, José Piñera, Secretary of Labor and Pensions under Augusto Pinochet, decided to do a major overhaul of the system:

We knew that cosmetic changes — increasing the retirement age, increasing taxes — would not be enough. We understood that the pay-as-you-go system had a fundamental flaw, one rooted in a false conception of how human beings behave. That flaw was lack of a link between what people put into their pension program and what they take out….

So we decided to go in the other direction, to link benefits to contributions. The money that a worker pays into the system goes into an account that is owned by the worker.

The system still required contributions of 10 percent of salary, but the money was deposited in any one of an array of private investment companies. Upon retirement, the worker had a number of options, including purchasing an annuity for life. Along the way he could track the performance of his account, and increase his contribution (up to 20 percent) if he wanted to retire earlier, or increase his payout at retirement.

How well has the system performed? John Tierney, a writer for the New York Times, went to visit Pablo Serra, a former classmate and friend in Santiago a few years ago, and they compared notes on how well their respective retirement programs were doing. Tierney brought along his latest statement from Social Security, while his friend brought up his retirement plan on his computer. It turned out that they both had been contributing about the same amount of money, so the comparison was apt, and startling, said Tierney:

Pablo could retire in 10 years, at age 62, with an annual pension of $55,000. That would be more than triple the $18,000 I can expect from Social Security at that age. OR

Pablo could retire at age 65 with an annual pension of $70,000. That would almost triple the $25,000 pension promised [to me] by Social Security starting a year later, at age 66. OR

Pablo could retire at age 65 with an annual pension of $53,000 and [in addition receive] a one-time cash payment of $223,000.

Tierney wrote that Pablo said “I’m very happy with my account.” Tierney suggested that, upon retirement, Pablo could not only retire nicely, but be able to buy himself a vacation home at the shore or in the country. Pablo laughed it off, and Tierney wrote: “I’m trying to look on the bright side. Maybe my Social Security check will cover the airfare to visit him.”

According to Investors Business Daily, the average annual rate of return for Chilean workers over the last 30 years has exceeded 9% annually, after inflation, whereas “U. S. Social Security pays a 1% to 2% (theoretical) rate of return, and even less for new workers.”

As expected, the capital accumulated in these privatized accounts have generated substantial growth in Chile’s economy. As noted by Wikipedia, “Chile is one of South America’s most stable and prosperous nations, leading Latin American nations in human development, competitiveness, income per capita, globalization, economic freedom, and low perception of corruption.” [Emphases added.]

High domestic savings and investment rates helped propel Chile’s economy to average growth rates of 8% during the 1990s. The privatized national pension plan (AFP) has encouraged domestic investment and contributed to an estimated total domestic savings rate of approximately 21% of GDP.

This was anticipated by Piñera when the plan was originally designed and implemented in 1981. In reviewing the success of the plan after just 15 years, Piñera said, “The Chilean worker is an owner, a capitalist. There is no more powerful way to stabilize a free-market economy and to get the support of the workers than to link them directly to the benefits of the market system. When Chile grows at 7 percent or when the stock market doubles … Chilean workers benefit directly, not only through high wages, not only through more employment, but through additional capital in their individual pension accounts.”

All of which should resonate with American workers who have been forced to contribute to a failing Social Security system for years. And yet when given the opportunity to support any sort of privatization, as during the Clinton and Bush administrations, the idea gained little traction. And now that Rep. Paul Ryan’s “Road Map” offers the chance for those same workers to contribute just one-third of their Social Security taxes to similar private accounts, the idea continues to fall on deaf ears.

However, according to Rasmussen Reports, that may be changing. Nearly half of those polled now correctly understand ‘that making major long-term cuts in government spending will require big changes” in Social Security, Medicare, and defense. That figure, adds Rasmussen, “suggests a growing awareness of budgetary realities among the American people.”

To privatize Social Security makes nothing but sense, as in dollars and cents. The ownership of private property has always propelled economic prosperity, higher wages and improved standards of living. Only those whose goals are to impoverish the American worker and reduce his ability to manage his own affairs and control his own future would resist such an attractive alternative. As noted by Piñera,

This is a brief story of a dream that has come true. The ultimate lesson is that the only revolutions that are successful are those that trust the individual, and the wonders that individuals can do when they are free.

France to Seize Pensions by Raising Retiring Age

Financial Times

Expectations are growing that France is set to remove the right to retire at 60, as it embarks on a contentious reform of its debt-laden pension system and brings public finances back into line.

Christian Estrosi, industry minister, said on Sunday the government was “leaning towards an increase in the [retirement] age” in its talks with unions and employers’ federations, despite denials from cabinet ministers over the weekend of a decision being taken.

Although there has been much speculation that France’s legal retirement age of 60 – one of the lowest in Europe – would be abandoned, Mr Estrosi’s comments on national radio are the clearest statement yet of government intentions.

His comments are likely to give ammunition to unions planning a national strike on Thursday to protest against spending cuts and pension reforms.

The government is expected to announce its planned reforms next month and expects to have a draft bill before parliament by September. Nicolas Sarkozy, president, has made pensions the last big reform of his government before the campaign for the next presidential election in 2012 gets under way.

All but one of France’s five main unions have rejected suggestions that the retirement age should be increased, favouring instead taxes to fill a deficit expected to hit €32bn this year, as much as €45bn in 2020 and possibly more than €100bn in 2050.

The government is highly sensitive to the potential of pension reform sparking widespread unrest and will be watching Thursday’s protest closely. Former prime minister Alain Juppé was eventually brought down by national protests in 1995 when he attempted to restructure one of the most generous pensions systems in Europe.

However, there are signs of opinion shifting and the government may be hoping to take the opportunity presented by the Greek crisis to convince the public of the need for reform. A survey last week showed two-thirds of those questioned believed the pension system was in danger of collapse.

A similar percentage of respondents agreed that the retirement age needed to be raised from 60 to 62.