Thursday, July 24, 1997

Pension funds - not yet!

For over ten years I have been enthusiastic about the implementation of pension funds such as those developed in Chile. I have assisted numerous related seminars, both in Chile as well as in Venezuela. We have finally come to the point where there is general acceptance in the country of the basic concepts involved and legal and political blessing seems just around the corner. Why, then, do I not feel satisfied? 

We have often seen the elderly treated in a very humane and civilized manner in poor and underdeveloped societies. We have also seen horrifying situations in countries with immense wealth and development. There seems to be, then, no real direct link between the wealth of a country and the quality of care it supplies for its elders. Obviously, the existence of economic resources facilitates care while the absence of the same can render even the best of intentions totally useless. 

In Chile, Peru and other countries in which pension funds have been established, these are only part of a series of measures and instruments aimed at returning economic rationality to their respective economies. In each of them, the fact that they have achieved strong and healthy growth, thereby allowing pension funds to obtain excellent returns, has undoubtedly contributed to the latter’s popularity. I doubt that any pension fund, no matter how well regulated, managed with utmost responsibility and subjected to the most efficient supervision, would have had the slightest chance of surviving and becoming an example for other countries should they have been developed in an economy managed by Salvador Allende or Alan Garcia. 

In order to guarantee the future of young, adults and elders alike in Venezuela, it is more important to achieve the reforms that insure that oil income such as that we have garnered in the last twenty years does not continue to go down the drain, than it is to simply introduce pension fund schemes. On the contrary, the development of pension funds in actual circumstances before the country has had the chance to find its way forward, could simply result in the disparaging of an excellent idea. 

This must necessarily be taken into account by all those that, in their search for business opportunities, are falling all over each other to assert their rights to administer the funds. The day a new generation of elderly accuses a fund administrator of bad management, it will be useless for the latter to argue that the State (synonym for politicians thirsty for fiscal resources required to complement reduced oil income) obliged them to invest in public securities. It will also be useless to look for absolution using the argument that they are not at fault that new devaluations have severely eroded the value of their patrimony. 

To assume responsibility of a pension fund is serious business. Even though I am certain that the private sector would be more efficient than the public sector, I believe that under present circumstances results would not be sufficiently satisfactory. If the country’s thinking population is satisfied with the mere introduction of pension funds, they are simply supplying politicians with the next generation of scapegoats. 

I would be ready to sacrifice for all time to come, the existence of pension funds managed by the private sector and even to accept the creation of a new Seguro Social in the hands of CorpoMercadeo professionals in exchange for fundamental reforms. I would even be ready to do so against a simple constitutional reform that would prohibit future contracting of external and internal debt by the public sector. I’m certain this trade off would be of great value to our future population of retirees. 

Finally, let us not forget that living in a society implies the continuous allocation and reallocation of resources. Should all our elders (myself included) become millionaires (in real terms) as a result of their investments in pension funds while the rest of the country lags behind and is not able to participate in this well being, let me assure you that future generations, in all their right, will certainly not allow us to peacefully enjoy our old age. 

For God’s sake, until when will we have to listen to siren songs about possible real returns in an unreal country.

Published in The Daily Journal of Caracas