In a day, a man can't eat for eight hours; he can't drink for eight hours; he can't make love for eight hours. The only thing a man can do for eight hours is work.
— attributed to William Faulkner
Work is a subject about which Professor Jonathan Barry Forman has given a great deal of thought, encompassing its modern-day complexity and dynamics in ways Faulkner would have never imagined in his fiction.
This country, like none other, is defined by work. A nation of immigrants, people come to America to work. Americans "value and respect work," he writes. "We want to see hard work and creativity rewarded."
But the American ideal of work isn't working as well as it could "when the market distribution of economic rewards is unfair" and economic inequality becomes excessive.
Mr. Forman, the Alfred P. Murrah professor of law at the University of Oklahoma, sets out to develop a national strategy for work in his new book, "Making America Work," published by the Urban Institute Press, Washington. He is also vice chairman of the $6.9 billion Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System, giving his work further grounding in real-world issues.
In his book, Mr. Forman integrates factors that affect employment, from taxes and government regulation to health-care benefits and pensions, including Social Security and private programs. In succinct sections, he argues that various factors are not working to improve the economy and welfare of the employees. Mr. Forman brings a scholar's depth of research and extensive annotation to his book and a refreshing spirit of offering potential solutions, some more practical than others.
While the book covers many aspects of work, in a chapter on pensions Mr. Forman offers keen analysis and controversial recommendations on a range of issues facing what he considers a deteriorating retirement system.
Mr. Forman presents a set of wide-ranging recommendations, from modest to more strident, to expand coverage and improve pensions.
Under the modest category, for instance, he would require employers offering pensions "to cover virtually all their workers, even those who work part-time." He believes competitive pressure to offer attractive compensation packages to retain workers would force employers to offer pensions, rather than terminate plans.
To aid portability of pensions, he would shorten vesting periods to no more than a year. To raise returns in defined contribution plans, he suggests a long-range goal: "There is a desperate need for more financial education of all kinds."
The tougher changes he calls for include a mandatory universal pension system. A "voluntary pension system cannot be counted on to meet the retirement income needs of American workers and their families," he writes.
A mandatory system would require workers "to set aside a large enough share of their earnings over their careers to fund adequate retirement benefits," he writes. He believes government should "encourage or even require that pension benefits be paid as annuities, perhaps even indexed-for-inflation annuities," to help ensure participants "will not outlive their retirement savings."
He also suggests raising the normal retirement age for ERISA plans, as has been done for Social Security.
Under this scenario, Faulkner's modern counterpart may well work for eight hours a day well past age 65.