401(k) Plans and Pensions: Are They Enough?

I wanted to pass along today a fascinating law review article by one of the better ERISA scholars, Susan Stabile, on the retirement benefit system. In the article, "Is It Time to Admit the Failure of an Employer-Based Pension System," to be published in the Lewis & Clark Law Review, Professor Stabile raises the question of whether, given recent developments concerning pensions and 401(k) plans, it is time to give up on the current system for funding employee retirement and instead create a new paradigm for it. She starts from the premise that incremental changes to the system are not sufficient to achieve retirement security, which is interesting to me because, at a minimum, it is fair to say that the stock drop and other ERISA and pension benefit litigation chronicled on this blog, and the judicial responses to them, really are exactly that - incremental changes to how 401(k) plans and pension benefits are governed and provided. She proposes that a much more radical response to the problem of providing Americans with retirement security is needed, such as the provision of a government pension for everyone or mandatory employer pensions with more stringent regulation than currently exists.

These are obviously radical departures from what currently exists, and from the ERISA governed system I discuss regularly in this blog, which is why the article is particularly interesting. But as a side benefit to those of you who are interested in the ERISA issues regularly chronicled here, Professor Stabile provides a nice presentation of the impact of ERISA's fiduciary duty and other obligations on the problem addressed in her article.