Summary: Argentina reformed its pension system in 1974, when it created an integrated, multipillar public-private pension system. Its old system had suffered from a vicious circle of unrealistic promises, high payroll taxes, widespread evasion, and growing deficits. But the reform program, enacted through the democratic process, suffered from many weaknesses, the most important of which were the continuing wage indexation of pensions and the retention of a public, unfunded, defined benefit component in the second pillar. The Argentine authorities were forced to take corrective measures, first by abolishing indexation with the passage of the Pension Solidarity Law in March, 1995, and then by integrating provincial pension schemes into the national system. The author argues that Argentina has undertaken not one but three major reforms of its pension system since 1993. One lesson of the Argentine experience is that pension reform is diluted as a result of democratic debate. This is less crucial than it appears, because reforming governments can rectify any major shortcomings through subsequent reforms. But it is important that the reform program be basically sound and that it move in the right direction. The author compares the new Argentine system with the systems of Chile and Switzerland. He finds that the main difference between the Argentine and Chilean systems lies in the higher levels of targeted pensions and targeted redistribution in Argentina. This is a political and social choice, but it implies a higher financial cost and thus higher contribution rates. The private component of the second pillar shares most of the strengths and weaknesses of the Chilean model, including high marketing and operating costs. The comparison with the Swiss system shows that Argentina's first pillar is less well designed than Switzerland's. But the funded component of its second pillar is more transparent and potentially more efficient than the Swiss funded pillar. Although it has much higher operating costs, it has achieved much higher investment returns. The relevance of the Argentine pension reform for Eastern Europe derives from the similarities in the problems of their public unfunded systems and the political and social acceptability of retaining a highly redistributive pillar. A balanced reform is politically feasible, while prolonged delays can lead to the collapse of the existing weak and unsustainable systems.
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