There are plenty of reasons why it is time to ditch defined-benefit pensions (as well as the rest of traditional teacher compensation) — and not just because of the at least $1.1 trillion in long-term deficits (including unfunded retired healthcare benefits often handled by state pension systems) that are being borne by taxpayers and the nation as a whole. One of them lies with the fact that the political power inherent in pension systems (including the ability to sway boards of publicly-held companies, as well as the role they play in picking money managers) allow for those who sit on their boards to engage in mischief that hurts markets and taxpayers alike; this includes requiring pensions to invest funds in alternative energy schemes that won’t ever pan out. This is especially true when board seats are held by leaders of National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers affiliates looking for any way to defend their ever-declining influence in education policy.
So your editor wasn’t surprised when the national AFT released what it called a “Retirement Security Report” earlier this week targeting money managers who happen to also be among key players in the school reform movement. Among the targets: Index fund investing pioneer Dimensional Fund Advisers (because one of its cofounders — who no longer runs the organization’s day-to-day operations — heads up Missouri’s Show-Me State Institute, a key player in advancing systemic reform in the Midwest); the investment firm Gilder, Gagnon, whose cofounder is chairman emeritus of the Manhattan Institute, a longstanding critic of the AFT and education traditionalists in general; and SLX Capital, whose foundation also donated to the conservative think tank. And, of course, Eagle Capital Management, whose boss, Ravenel Boykin Curry, is on the board of Manhattan Institute as well; his son, R. Boykin Curry Jr., cofounded (with Kevin Chavous and Whitney Tilson) Democrats for Education Reform, which has helped reduce the AFT’s and NEA’s influence over Democratic Party politics at the national level.