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Publicpension governance and performance : lessons for developing countries


  • Mitchell, Olivia S.


The author examines the relationship between public sector pension plan performance and management practices to improve the design and governance of public pensions in developing countries. Understanding this relationship is important because better yields on public pension plan investment reduce the need for additional taxes to support retirees - and well-funded plans stand a better chance of paying promised benefits. The author's model relates investment returns on public pension assets, as well as plan funding status, to features characterizing the pension systems'governance structure and authority, using new data set on U.S. state and local public sector plans. The following findings stand out. The higher the fraction of retirees elected to the pension board, the stronger the negative effect on investment return in 1990, and the more variable the returns. Systems fared about the same whether they had in-house or external money managers, or independent performance analysis (even if the external managers were drawn from the top 10). But public pensions performed better when fund and actuarial computations were done by professional actuarial and investment counselors rather than relying on former or current employees to choose investment strategies. Social investment rules hurt public pension yields. Public pension plans which mandated that a certain portion of investments be director to instate projects generated much lower returns. The data show that many public pension systems funded their plans satisfactorily but others did not. The results show the following. Fiscal stress reduced stock funding ratios. Stock funding rates were lower, the higher the fraction of elected retirees and elected active workers represented on the pension system board. Stock funding ratios were higher when a system had in-house actuaries, when the board authorized benefit levels, and when board members had liability insurance. Stock funding rates were unaltered by state statutes guaranteering that benefits be guaranteed by law, or by legally set funding requirements, or by the state's ability to carry budget deficits from one year to the next. Nor did they vary when dedicated or special taxes were earmarked for pension revenue. Policymakers in developing countries can profit from the mistakes made and lessons learned by U.S. pension analysis. Although no single package of pension plan practices can optimize investment performance for all systems across all time periods, care must be taken when designing the regulatory and investment environment in which these plans operate. Developing countries should study the work of the U.S. Government Accounting Standards Board. The author discusses some of the complex issues that must be confronted when establishing funding norms for defined benefit pension plans in the public sector.

Suggested Citation

  • Mitchell, Olivia S., 1993. "Publicpension governance and performance : lessons for developing countries," Policy Research Working Paper Series 1199, The World Bank.
  • Handle: RePEc:wbk:wbrwps:1199

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Lakonishok, Josef, et al, 1991. "Window Dressing by Pension Fund Managers," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 81(2), pages 227-231, May.
    2. Mitchell, Olivia S & Smith, Robert S, 1994. "Pension Funding in the Public Sector," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 76(2), pages 278-290, May.
    3. Shlomo Benartzi & Richard H. Thaler, 1995. "Myopic Loss Aversion and the Equity Premium Puzzle," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 110(1), pages 73-92.
    4. Olivia S. Mitchell, "undated". "Retirement Systems in Developed and Developing Countries: Institutional Features, Economic Effects, and Lessons for Economies in Transition," Pension Research Council Working Papers 94-3, Wharton School Pension Research Council, University of Pennsylvania.
    5. Grinblatt, Mark & Titman, Sheridan D, 1989. "Mutual Fund Performance: An Analysis of Quarterly Portfolio Holdings," The Journal of Business, University of Chicago Press, vol. 62(3), pages 393-416, July.
    6. Alan L. Gustman & Olivia S. Mitchell, 1990. "Pensions and the U.S. Labor Market," NBER Working Papers 3331, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Mitchell, Olivia S, 1988. "Worker Knowledge of Pension Provisions," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 6(1), pages 21-39, January.
    8. James, Estelle, 1992. "Income security for old age : conceptual background and major issues," Policy Research Working Paper Series 977, The World Bank.
    9. Josef Lakonishok & Andrei Shleifer & Robert W. Vishny, 1992. "The Structure and Performance of the Money Management Industry," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 23(1992 Micr), pages 339-391.
    10. Dennis Epple & Katherine Schipper, 1981. "Municipal pension funding: A theory and some evidence," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 37(1), pages 141-178, January.
    11. Olivia S. Mitchell & Ping-Lung Hsin, "undated". "Public Pension Governance and Performance," Pension Research Council Working Papers 94-1, Wharton School Pension Research Council, University of Pennsylvania.
    12. Smith, Robert Stewart, 1981. "Compensating Differentials for Pensions and Underfunding in the Public Sector," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 63(3), pages 463-468, August.
    13. Olivia S. Mitchell & Ping Lung Hsin, 1994. "Public Sector Pension Governance and Performance," NBER Working Papers 4632, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    14. Olivia S. Mitchell & Emily S. Andrews, 1981. "Scale Economies in Private Multi-Employer Pension Systems," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 34(4), pages 522-530, July.
    15. Alicia H. Munnell & C. Nicole Ernsberger, 1989. "Public pension surpluses and national saving: foreign experience," New England Economic Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, issue Mar, pages 16-38.
    16. Olivia S. Mitchell & Robert S. Smith, "undated". "Public Sector Pension Funding," Pension Research Council Working Papers 94-4, Wharton School Pension Research Council, University of Pennsylvania.
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    Cited by:

    1. Nick Davis, 1998. "Governance of Crown Financial Assets," Treasury Working Paper Series 98/02, New Zealand Treasury.


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