Monday, February 23, 2009

401(k)’s and IRA’s: Modernity’s Peculium (Bill Butler)

I don't know why I didn't see this before, but Bill Butler points out that 401(k)'s had a lot to do with the market bubble:

Bill ButlerLike many, I have learned much from LRC and the Mises Institute over the past decade or so. As I am sure is true for many loyal fans and contributors, the process of home schooling oneself in Austrian economics and libertarian philosophy has been both cathartic and sobering. If someone told me ten years ago that today I would believe that two little-known Jewish academics – Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard – were perhaps the two greatest minds of the 20th century, I would have told them they were nuts. It has all been very strange and wonderful.

Among the many interesting things I have learned came from a 2005 blog entry by Stephan Kinsella, a fellow attorney I have never met and know very little about. In his entry, Mr. Kinsella cited a passage from Alan Watson’s Roman Law and Comparative Law, and noted that Roman slaves had some, albeit very circumscribed, financial rights:

A slave could own no property, but from early times it was customary to give the slave a peculium, a fund that he could administer as if it belonged to him. Technically, this sum belonged to the master, but to some extent it was treated as a separate estate with which the master did not interfere except for good reason.

As I read this I recalled my response when my employer in the early 1990’s offered a new "401(k)" plan that allowed me invest "pretax" dollars in the market. Although untrained in Austrian economics, I instinctively recognized this as a method of coercively supplying money to the capital markets. While many around me saw the account as a government-sanctioned employment benefit, I saw it as a government threat.

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