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    World Bank Pension Reforms and Development Patterns in the World System and in the Wider Europe

    A 109 Country Investigation Based on 33 Indicators of Economic Growth, and Human, Social and Ecological Well-Being, and a European Regional Case Study

    Arno Tausch

    Innsbruck University – Faculty of Political Science and Sociology – Department of Political Science; Guest Professor of Economics


    On the first anniversary of the death of Nobel Laureate Professor Franco Modigliani, the Luxembourg Institute for European and International Studies (LIEIS) organised a conference on ‘Reforming European Pension Systems’ on 24 and 25 September 2004 in Schengen.

    Initially, the intention was to hold this conference in the presence of Professor Modigliani who had written a comprehensive paper for the LIEIS. However, due to ill health, such a meeting had to be postponed repeatedly. A third date was set two days before Professor Modigliani’s death. One year on, the LIEIS convened colleagues and friends to honour his memory and life-long work and to discuss his ideas in relation to pension reforms in Europe.

    In the course of 5 sessions, approximately 30 participants from about 10 countries debated the following questions:

    1. the open legacy of Franco Modigliani and European pension reforms
    2. the Modigliani-Muralidhar approach to pension reform
    3. various funding modes and issues of transition
    4. lessons and outlook on pension reforms in Europe
    5. alternatives for pension reform in Luxembour

    Our research paper, which will appear in abridged form in the forthcoming Conference volume, published by Rozenberg publishers, Amsterdam, compares the cross national effects of pension reform on 33 indicators of social, economic, political and ecological well-being of nations with the effects on these 33 variables by dependency, the adherence to the advice by international financial institutions, world political or world cultural identities; the aging process; feminism, militarism; the public education effort and the development level.

    Traditionally, world system approaches explain human and economic misery by the dependent insertion of the periphery and the semi-periphery into the global economy.

    It is true that the ascending countries of East Asia, whose investment is often much higher than their savings rate, are at the winning side in the global social equation. It is also true that unequal exchange (ERDI) is still an important phenomenon, significantly explaining many processes of development. However, the privatization of public education, especially at the Third level, the developmental negative consequences of female distribution coalitions as well as the imperative of pension reform have been up to now neglected in cross-national development research. Interestingly enough, economic freedom as such is also not as relevant as pension reform in explaining economic or social success in the world system. We can say that foreign savings and pension reforms are among the most highly influential positive determinants of development today, while culturalist theories and dependency theories fail to achieve the levels of significance we had originally expected when compared to the new cross-national variable pension reform. These findings have important repercussions for the European debate on pension reform and the Lisbon strategy to catch up with the US by 2010 to make Europe the most competitive region in the world economy.

    European Union membership years by themselves are lamentably enough a rather negative determinant of the processes of development due to the cumbersome mechanisms and distribution coalitions that European institutions present, and the reliance of many countries in the European Union on publicly financed systems of education also has to be reconsidered. Political feminism is another master variable of the European political discourse and it is the main loser in the 1990s and the early years of the 21st Century, indicating again that political distribution coalitions are likely to lose today and tomorrow. The results reported clearly indicate that world systems studies would be well advised to take the processes of pension reform very seriously.

    To neglect pension funds in investigations about the capitalist world economy would be misleading at any rate. Private pension funds already amount to 44% of current world GDP, with countries like the United States; Japan; United Kingdom; Netherlands; Canada; Switzerland; Australia; Sweden; Ireland; Finland; and Denmark taking the lead in fund development either via the introduction of a World Bank three pillar models or simply via a strong element of private pensions (the third pillar) besides the first, traditional PAYGO pillar (like presently in the United States of America). Slow pension fund development in most countries of the Euro-zone determines that the overall share of private pension funds from the Euro-zone is just over 2% of world GDP. If Europe wants to fulfill its Lisbon agenda of catching up with the United States, it must overhaul its pension systems and introduce some form or other of private pension funds, which are a major force in financing technological advance in the capitalist world economy today.

    Our investigations also clearly show that World Bank pension reforms are associated in a positive way with the rates of change of a country’s performance to the better.

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