By now, most Americans are aware of Hillary Clinton’s strong allegiance to Wall Street. However, many still remain unaware or unsure of how the financial industry’s influence would manifest in a potential Clinton administration. Look no further than the man named as Clinton’s most likely pick for Treasury Secretary, Tony James. James, who declined a position in Obama’s cabinet, is the President of the Blackstone Group, a multinational hedge fund and the largest alternative investment firm in the world, as well as a longtime Clinton donor and billionaire. Though James’ Wall Street background should be enough to concern a majority of Americans, it’s his plans for Americans’ retirement savings that should scare them.
James revealed his plan to “help millions of aging Americans” at a recent talk to the Center for American Progress, a liberal think-tank founded by none other than Clinton Campaign Chair John Podesta. The plan calls for hundreds of billions of dollars of retirement savings to be given to financial firms and hedge funds, such as Blackstone, who would pool the savings together and “invest” them in “higher, returning asset classes.” In other words, Americans’ retirement savings would be lumped together under Wall Street control, allowing them to gamble with the massive sum and make a killing from the bets. However, any “misplaced” bets would be the problem of everyday Americans invested in the system, not the hedge funds who made those bad bets.
When James was asked by Bloomberg news about the obvious conflict of interest he has in proposing the plan, he responded: “If this gets enacted, there are going to be thousands and thousands and thousands of asset managers that will benefit I suppose because more savings and more investment benefits all asset managers of every stripe.” The plan, in its current form, would generate roughly $300 billion a year for Wall Street firms in management fees alone. Though Clinton’s campaign has refused to comment on James’ plan, James himself has said that a Clinton win in November would make his plan a reality, whether or not he is chosen to serve as Treasury Secretary, as it has received “warm signals” from both top Democrats and Republicans.
Though US politicians can talk all they want about how many aging Americans will benefit from James’ plan, the verdict is already in as this plan has already been “tested” in another country. When the US backed a bloody coup in Chile, they ushered in one of South America’s most vicious dictatorships ever. However, the coup had another goal – neo-liberal economic experiments. Pinochet, at the US’ urging, employed American Economist Milton Friedman to personally train his economic team. This group of US-educated economists became known in Chile as the “Chicago Boys.” The Chicago Boys were given free reign to experiment with Friedman’s free-market economic philosophies on an unprecedented scale.
One of those experiments created the AFP, a privatized pension system, which continues today despite being extremely unpopular. The AFP system involves six private pension funds, which is run largely by foreign investment firms, including many Wall Street banks. Though the system originally promised to “help” aging Chileans, offering them pensions of 70% their wages upon retirement, the actual total now received by the average Chilean is more like 12-15%, a total significantly less than the minimum wage – around $236 per month. This has consigned many of Chile’s elderly to panhandling and homelessness while enriching those who manage the AFP pension funds. All of Chile’s AFP fund managers are multi-millionaires. Millions of Chileans have protested for years to end the corrupt system, which has contributed to the country’s record inequality, but have been unsuccessful. With Hillary Clinton at the helm, Americans will be able to look forward to similar future.
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