Synopses & Reviews
Banking on Death
offers a panoramic view of the history and future of pension provision. A work of unique scope, it traces the origins and development of the pension idea, from the days of the French Revolution to the troubles of the modern welfare state.
As we live longer, employers are closing their pension schemes and many claim that public treasuries will not be able to cope with the retirement of the babyboomers. Banking on Death analyzes the challenge facing public schemes and the malfunctioning of private retirement provision, concluding with a bold proposal for how to pay for decent pensions for all.
Robin Blackburn argues that pension funds have been depleted by wasteful promotion and used as gambling chips by ruthless and overpaid top executives. This is the world of ‘gray capitalism,’ where employees’ savings are sequestrated from them and pressed into the service of corporate aggrandizement. Even the best companies find it hard to run a business and a pension fund at the same time—especially when the latter is larger than the former. The fund managers’ notorious short-termism and herd instinct, and their failure to curb the greed and irresponsibility of the corporate elite, lead to obscene inequalities and a blighted social landscape.
The pension privatization lobby, Blackburn shows, has lost major battles in France and Germany, the United States and Italy, because of the popular fears it evokes. And the case for privatization looks intellectually threadbare after withering critiques from such notable theorists as Joseph Stiglitz and Pierre Bourdieu. Banking on Death shows that pensions are political dynamite, and have undone governments from France and Italy to Argentina. Popular outcries led Reagan, Clinton, and Blair to change tack: will this happen to George W. Bush too? Blackburn argues that the aging society will generate increased costs but, so long as the new life course is properly financed, all age groups will gain. He proposes a public regime of asset-based welfare, drawing on the ideas of John Maynard Keynes and Rudolf Meidner, that could ensure secondary pensions for all and foster a more responsible, egalitarian and humane pattern of economic development.
Timely and important reading....No one interested in pension finance and pension rights can afford to miss it. (Los Angeles Times Best Nonfiction Books of 2002, 8 December 2002)
"Blackburn is particularly good at disentangling the different dynamics that make the pensions problem so intractable for mature, ageing economies." Sir Howard Davis
Blackburn does an excellent job of tracing recent developments.If Karl Marx were alive today, he would be in the British Library devouring everything he could find on pension funds: the new fuel of global capitalism. Robin Blackburn has read everything, and in this urgent and brilliant book, proposes a new strategy that unites workers of the world around the democratic control of their savings. --Mike Davis
One of the best books I have read on pension funds....required reading for all those interested in the pensions industry. That is, all of us. --Barry Marshall
In stormy waters and under darkening skies, Banking on Death stands like a lighthouse, providing a beam of orientation on a solid rock of research. --Goran Therborn
This is an important and disturbing book. Blackburn is a master of the complexities of pension provision. He unsettles belief in a commercial fix to the challenge of social insurance. --Richard Sennett
The onset of globalization and the ageing of populations have encouraged efforts to privatize the funding of retirement, putting at risk the public provision of pensions in many countries, and giving pension and insurance funds great financial power. Robin Blackburn shows that the private funds enjoy vital public subsidy, in the shape of major tax breaks, yet typically fail to give their policy-holders a say, or subscribe to wider social objectives. This new economic landscape obliges progressives to advance their aims in new ways. Pension Power argues that tax concessions should be confined to those funds which adhere to socially-committed and sustainable investment programs, preferably on a not-for-profit basis. Rival pension proposals are being debated today in many countries with major implications for the distribution of economic power. Blackburn offers a lucid survey of the debates on the future of social security in the United States, the plans for "stakeholder pensions" in Britain, and the experience of social funds in Sweden, Chile and Singapore. At once radical and realistic his analysis shows how "grey capitalism" could be transformed in pursuit of progressive goals.
The onset of globalisation and the ageing of populations have encouraged efforts to privatize the funding of retirement, putting at risk public pensions in many countries and giving pension and insurance funds great financial power. Private funds enjoy vital public subsidy, in the shape of major tax breaks, yet typically fail to give their policyholders a say, or subscribe to wider social objectives.
Banking on Death traces the history of pension provision across the advanced capitalist world. It concludes that tax concessions should be confined to those funds which adhere to socially committed and sustainable investment programmes, preferably on a not-for-profit basis. Blackburn offers a lucid survey of the debates on the future of social security in the United States and the struggles over pension provision in Britain, France and Germany. At once radical and realistic his analysis shows how grey capitalism could be transformed in pursuit of progressive goals.
A panoramic view of the origins and development of the pension idea.
Plenty of food for thought.
About the Author
Robin Blackburn is a Leverhulme research fellow based at the University of Essex in the UK. He taught as a visitor at the New School for Social Research in New York between 2001 and 2010. He is the author of many books, including The Making of New World Slavery and The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery.