GM and the Viability of Pension Plans

Well, I am not quite sure what to say, or perhaps more accurately where to start, with regard to this article in the New York Times today on the surprising financial health - at least for now - of the GM pension plan. As the company otherwise founders, the article describes years of responsible, forward thinking stewardship of the pension plan’s funds, including with regard to investments of the plan’s assets. Obviously, as the article points out, with the company itself in grave danger of running out of money, that may not continue for too much longer, but GM’s handling of the pension plan to date is clearly commendable, particularly so in a world in which so many other businesses insist that they cannot possibly carry the risks and expenses of offering a defined benefit plan. But GM’s contrary experience raises more questions than it answers. Is it only a company with a gigantic financial footprint - like a GM - that can handle the long term financial investments and exposure needed to run a defined benefit plan? Or is a well thought out investment strategy and a corporate willingness to actually contribute the money needed to execute it all that is needed, such that other companies - many of whom have abandoned pension plans - could have pulled it off as well, had they been so inclined? Or, finally, does GM’s current predicament and the likelihood that, barring a turnaround of the company’s fortunes, its pension plan will be in trouble as well, show that defined benefit plans are simply impractical at best in modern American economic life, where - as the GM example shows - the length of pension commitments is not concomitant with the likely life span of the company that makes those commitments?