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Sunday, August 28, 2005

Retiree Revolution (this is what you will see in the newspapers)


The Retiree’s Revolution


I think it's time we stop, children, what's that sound?
Everybody look what's going down.”


-Buffalo Springfield.


There are some things going down that could change the country.


I have a friend who says America is headed toward another revolution.  It has been a while since the Civil War and he figures we are due.


I thought he was a little wacky but I can see a day when a revolution might happen. But it won’t be waged by disillusioned youth; it will be led retirees and grandparents.


The revolution will be about pensions.


For most of the 20th century, most Americans worked at one company and then got a pension at retirement.  It was their reward for staying and building the company.


Now airlines, coal barons and big companies have used the bankruptcy courts to dump their pensions and break their promises to their workers.


Employees who worked their entire lives do not have the pension and health benefits they were promised.


Congress and the courts let the companies dump their obligations and go back into business again.   Now that they have let one company do it, eventually all will.


Government workers are the only people whose pensions are really safe.   They can’t lose their pensions unless the government collapses.


Government employees will retire with nice pensions while their neighbors will not.


Imagine the resentment that will cause.


A retired airline pilot turned Wal-Mart greeter will someday greet a retired government worker with a punch to the face.


At that point, the revolution will be on.


The revolting retirees will have strong allies: people who have decided to take government out of their lives.


In the past few years, an economy has been built around private companies providing the same, but better, services as government.


We now have private armies, private prisons, private schools, private police forces and private roads.  For every service that government offers, there is a private company that replicates it. 


Private contractors are playing a big part in the war in Iraq. You can see why.  They hire the best trained people and do not make soldiers buy their own body armor.


People who use private services are making a statement with their dollars. They are not happy with some aspect of government service or government in general.


We could have a revolutionary force of irate retirees questioning government pensions side by side with people angry about paying for government services they don’t use or need.


It could get ugly.


Government leaders can head off a possible revolution.  They can assure a world where government employees won’t be mugged when they go to buy underwear.


The first step is to give private workers back the pensions that were stolen from them. 


If you tweak the bankruptcy laws, the revolution will be stopped.


The law should be changed so that every company officer and director should fork over their personal assets before they rob company employees of their pensions.  


All of the vacation homes, stock options and private jets should be forfeited.  The officers should be barred from working for that company again.


If you pass that law, you will never see another company drop a pension plan, ever.


If my small business goes broke, creditors get everything I own.  People who run Fortune 500 companies should operate under the same standards. 


People use private schools and other private services if they don’t think the government is giving them what they need.


Leaders need to make government services so good that private industry can’t compete.


Public broadcasting is an example of a service that private industry has not been able to replicate.  Other government services should look at that model of excellence.


People in all political parties are fed up with politicians finding jobs for their idiot nephews and handing out government contracts to their biggest contributors.


When you add in the negative advertising many politicians use to get elected, the perception of government is at a record low.


I grew up believing that government could be an instrument for positive change.   It still can be. Leaders need to stop and really hear what people are saying. 


It is time for everyone to look at what is going down.


Don McNay is President of McNay Settlement Group in Richmond Kentucky where we listen to our clients and don’t want people to be  punched  by Wal-Mart greeters.  You can write to him at or read other things he has written at