"We have opened up a new sport for America's elite," economist Dean Baker shrilled in a widely circulated December 2013 column for truthout.org. The sport? "Pension theft." Baker is panicked, like so many on the left, about the prospects for public sector pension benefits in cities where legislators are facing bankruptcy and starting to make hard decisions about trimming benefits for future government employees. Cutting pension payouts instead of raising taxes to pay for the underfunded promises, Baker argued, is tantamount to stealing: "Rather than inconvenience all those rich folks at the Chicago Board of Trade or other highly successful businesses with a larger tax bill, the plan is to stiff the firefighters, the schoolteachers, and the people who collected garbage for 30 years."
The fights over who is going to get paid and who is going to get screwed in fiscally distressed cities can seem like a game, albeit one with wildly arcane rules. But it's the public sector unions—especially the ones representing police and firefighters—who are the most adept at playing it.
Baker is peddling nonsense, writes Steven Greenhut, but he is inadvertently right: There has been a massive theft, totaling hundreds of billions of dollars. But the real victims of pension graft are current and future taxpayers, who face ever-higher taxes and ever-lousier public services. The beneficiaries of this gravy train are the very people whose plight Baker bemoans: public sector workers.