Investment Practices of State and Local Pension Funds: Implications for Social Security Reform

Alicia H. Munnell Annika Sundén

WP#1999-1

Abstract

The investment practices of public pension funds have become a topic of major interest in the wake of President Clinton’s 1999 proposal to invest a portion of the Social Security Trust Funds in equities. Both supporters and opponents of the proposal point to the performance of public plans to argue their case. Supporters cite the success of Federal plans, particularly the Federal Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), which has avoided picking individual stocks by investing in a stock index and has steered clear of projects with less than market returns. Divestiture of stocks for social or political reasons has also not been a problem, and TSP has avoided government intervention in the private sector since individual portfolio managers vote the proxies. Opponents of Social Security Trust Fund investment in equities point to state and local pension funds. They contend that state and local pensions often undertake investments that sacrifice return to achieve political or social goals, divest stocks to demonstrate that they do not support some perceived immoral or unethical behavior, and intervene in corporate activity. Opponents claim that if Social Security’s investment options were broadened, Congress would use the Trust Fund money for similar unproductive activities. An important question is the extent to which allegations about state and local plans are true.

 

This paper has been published in Pensions in the Public Sector