Government, Lincoln said, should do for the people what they need to have done but cannot do at all or so well for themselves as individuals. While Connecticut has not been following Lincoln's standard for a long time, if his standard ever was followed state government would reject the proposal to establish a retirement savings program for private-sector workers.
Of course people don't save enough for retirement, and government probably would suffer less expense for care of the aged if they saved more. But the proposed retirement savings program has little to recommend it.
First, such a program would accomplish nothing that people can't already do for themselves. The program would do no more than establish individual retirement accounts for people and require employers to facilitate regular payroll deductions to fund the accounts. But many employers already offer retirement savings plans with regular payroll deductions, and it is no problem that many employers don't, since hundreds of investment houses will establish them for individuals and fund them through automatic deductions from an individual's checking account.
Either way the results for the retirement saver are the same.
Second, advocates of a state program acknowledge that it probably would not cover its management costs until it had amassed a billion dollars in retirement savings contributions. That probably would take a few years and maybe much longer. In the meantime a substantial new state government agency would have to be created to run the retirement saving system at tax expense.
Of course the agency's employees would not have to participate in the retirement savings plan supervised by their agency. As state government employees they would qualify for state government's excellent defined-benefit retirement savings plan and retiree medical insurance, benefits guaranteed by state government, while the pension agency itself was providing private-sector workers only an ordinary defined-contribution retirement savings plan -- that is, a plan with benefits subject to stock market risk and no medical insurance.
The only good reason to establish such a retirement savings system would be to facilitate the gradual transition of state government’s defined-benefit pension system into a defined-contribution system for new employees.
Connecticut Secretary of the State DeniseMerrill has what ordinarily might be a good idea -- to register people as voters whenever they undertake a transaction at offices of the state Motor VehiclesDepartment, unless, of course, they are already registered or don't want to register. Merrill estimates that as many as a third of Connecticut's eligible adults are not registered to vote though most have driver's licenses.
The problem is that amid the turmoil at the Motor Vehicles Department arising from the botched recent implementation of its new computer system, the department lately hasn't been competent to do even its ordinary work. If the department started registering voters now, many might end up registered in the wrong towns. So Merrill's proposal should be set aside for a few years.
In any case the problem with all those unregistered adults is not the current voter registration system, in which registration already is easy. People can register during business hours at town halls, at the many registration outreach events held by voter registrars, and on the Internet.
Even so, not only do maybe a third of the state's eligible adults fail to register, but in a typical election half of the people who are registered don't bother to vote. Indeed, participation in Connecticut's elections was far higher years ago when voter registration was not as easy as it is now.
So Secretary Merrill is not addressing the real problem -- the failure of parents and public education to engender civic virtue amid the corruption of prosperity, which is the historic bane of civilization.
Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.