The Wall Street Journal has a fascinating article about how corporations like Intel are loading up their general pension funds with obligations to pay massive “supplemental” benefits to senior executives. It’s partly a tax dodge, and partly an example of what Jacob Hacker has called the great risk shift. The extra liabilities increase the risk that the fund will fail, but the top brass can be protected against this eventuality with a trust fund, while the rank and file get to take their chances.
Update To clarify, in response to comments here and at Crooked Timber, the pension entitlements of ordinary workers are supposed to be protected by the government through Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, and to the extent that this works as expected, risk is shifted to the PBGC rather than to workers. But as both the WSJ story and the discussion at CT make clear, things don’t always work as planned. Some benefits paid to ordinary workers turn out to be classed as supplemental and therefore lost when the scheme fails.