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The Great 401 (k) Hoax: Why Your Family's Financial Security Is At Risk, And What You Can Do About It Paperback – April 1, 2003

ISBN-13: 978-0738208527 ISBN-10: 0738208523 Edition: New Ed

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; New Ed edition (April 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0738208523
  • ISBN-13: 978-0738208527
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,155,425 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"A call for real pension reform and a rethinking of how to provide retirement security in this country." -- Boston Globe

"A call for real pension reform and a rethinking of how to provide retirement security in this country." -- Boston Globe

"A hard-hitting evaluation of the 401(k)plans... [Wolman and Colamosca] deliver a disturbing message." -- USA Today

"A hard-hitting evaluation of the 401(k)plans... [Wolman and Colamosca] deliver a disturbing message." -- USA Today

About the Author

William Wolman is senior contributing editor at BusinessWeek magazine, where he served as chief economist during 1990s. An economics commentator for CNBC, he was recently named one of the leading business journalists of the century. Anne Colamosca is a former staff writer and reporter at BusinessWeek magazine. They live in New York City. William Wolman is senior contributing editor at BusinessWeek magazine, where he served as chief economist during 1990s. An economics commentator for CNBC, he was recently named one of the leading business journalists of the century. Anne Colamosca is a former staff writer and reporter at BusinessWeek magazine. They live in New York City.

Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Sanjib Das on July 13, 2005
Format: Paperback
The authors set out to prove that 401k plans are inherently risky and in many cases inadequate to meet the retirement needs of people. They make their case by using historical analysis and they manage to do it well. They draw a parallel comparision between the politics, culture and economics of the 1920s and the 1990s. Just as the 1920s led to the Great Crash and the Depression, the new millenium looks ready for similar economic hardships. This can have a devastating effect on the retirement plans for most Americans.

Before 401(k) plans came into the picture, "defined pension plans" had become popular ( though not as popular as 401k was eventually to become). Those were the Golden years of the American economy (1945-1973). It represented a certain commitment by American companies to their workers. Most companies were doing well in those years and could guarantee the monthly pension checks to retirees.

As America suffered slow-growth years from 1973 to the mid 90s, the solution that emerged for improving corporate balance sheets was simple: Design a pension system that depended not on defined benefits for employees but on defined contributions made mainly by employees. As corporations were having more trouble making money, the 401(k) became the new model for pensions.

Various other factors contributed to Americans shifting more and more of their assets into stocks/Mutual funds/401k plans over the years:

1. First is the Wall Street propaganda resulting from the massive drive to capture the public's resources. Andrew Smithers, the brilliant British financial analyst, once told the authors that he could make a lot of money by being a bull and being wrong than by being a bear and being right.

2.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By dennis wentraub on June 17, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Today's 401 (k) retirement plans will not fulfill the implicit promise they represent for Americans hoping to retire in comfort. William Wolman and Anne Colamosca believe they are structurally flawed and have investment biases that are out of touch with the economic realities faced by Americans in a post bubble period. Their ideal retirement plan would have greater investment options, but with less emphasis on stocks, no restrictions on the ability to buy or sell securities, and little or no stock of the employee's company, with company matches being made as cash rather than stock. This book is a call for reform as well as a marginally useful guide to investing in the new millennium. The text occasionally rambles and the authors' political bias is distracting [ e.g. 401 (k) plans are the result of an excessive faith in the free market, Americans are entitled to their pensions as "citizens" rather than as employees, etc.], but a strong case is ultimately made for reform.
It is a key premise of this book that the equity markets will be stagnant for some time. This "stillwater" period of slow growth and anemic returns will be the result of a slowing in IT spending, the sticky consequences of a decade of accumulated debt, an aging population that consumes less, additional accounting scandals that will undermine investor confidence, globalization (viz. offshoring), and a national hubris that misses most of this.
At three periods in the 20th century stock market prices became dramatically out of balance with underlying earnings, collapsed, and two decades passed before prices surpassed their bubble highs. Significantly, the general rates of return for equities in the twenty years following the 1901, 1929, and 1966 peaks averaged less than two percent!
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By The_Sink on March 9, 2006
Format: Paperback
The Great 401(k) Hoax is real!!!!

Or at least that's what the writers of this book, surpisingly former Business Week contributers, will have you believe. ("Surprisingly" because of the lack of free-markets bent.)

The conclusion is that our entire futures are based around a flawed and imperfect system of investing that has led us all astray and has jeopardized our future. This is ten to fifteen pages of The Great 401(k) Hoax. The rest of the book provides historical comparisons to the post bubble/9-11 period that "prove" we are in for stagnant returns in the stock market from now (the now being mid 2002 when the book was written) to...well, who knows when. Quite honestly, the historical connection is incredibly signficant as history may not be indicitive of future returns (as all mutual funds are required to tell you), but history can be darn close. This part of the book is very interesting and important. Also included is a analytical perspective on the destruction of the pension plan which is fine and good, but intuitive.

What lacks is the clear cut conclusion of "what do we do?" Part of the title of this book is "What You Can Do About It." After reading the entire book, I'm still not entirely clear on what I can do about it. The writers offer investment suggestions, but in the end still seem a little inconclusive on whether they are viable options for a safe retirement. In the afterward, written a year or so after the original release, many of the writers' original investment suggestions are (obviously) rescinded, such as bonds which had 3 years of strong growth following the continuing decline of stocks. Ultimately, one investment option is highly recommended, both in the book and the afterward. I won't ruin the surprise for readers, but their TIPs are anti-climactic.
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