US public pension plans’ accounting gimmicks exposed

I’ve written previously on the staggering consensus of experts who reject the accounting methods utilized by U.S. state and local public pensions plans to understate the true size of their debt. It’s worth reiterating that this approach is rejected by all other pension plan providers — which includes the U.S. federal government, U.S. private pension plans and both public and private plans in Canada and Europe.

A new paper by four of the nation’s premier pension experts does an incredible job of articulating why the approach currently used by U.S. public pension plans is flawed. Here is how Reason’s Truong Bui describes the authors:

To start, the authors of the paper are no outsiders with an ax to grind. The findings and arguments in the paper were instead informed by a range of influences, including those from a former head of JPMorgan’s Global Sovereign Liability Management (Ed Bartholomew), a former SOA vice-president (Jeremy Gold), a former director of Moody’s Analytics (David G. Pitts), and a vice president at Goldman Sachs (Larry Pollack).

The effect of adopting proper accounting methods reveals why so many governments are reluctant to do so: combined U.S. public pension debt would rise from $1.7 trillion to more than $5.6 trillion!

The cost to service this debt would most likely cause a wave of defaults, like what has already happened in the commonwealth of Puerto Rico and cities like Detroit, Michigan and Stockton, California.

The paper can be read here.


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