Pithy parallels between infrastructure, pension crises

Now that Jon Stewart has ridden into the sunset, no one skewers our present-day political and social follies better than John Oliver, on the HBO program “Last Week Tonight.”

Recently, a friend commended to us a bit Oliver did early in 2015 on the decidedly “unsexy” topic of infrastructure, which Oliver defined as “roads, bridges, dams, levies, airports, power grids, basically anything that can be destroyed in an action movie.”

Have a look. It’s a frequently sidesplitting 21 minutes. Oliver pithily ridicules our nation’s unwillingness to muster the political will and courage to fix a problem that, left unaddressed, will grow until a catastrophe occurs. Thousands or even millions of people will suffer the consequences of our collective unwillingness to suck it up and do what needs doing.

Hmm. Does this sound a bit like a certain dangerously underfunded state pension program hereabouts? It’s easy to watch Oliver’s infrastructure takedown and substitute “PERA” every time he mentions infrastructure.

Here are but a few examples:

  • Speaking of aging and flawed dams: “You would think a statistic like that would terrify people into action. But amazingly, many states are paying virtually no to their [pension] problems.”
  • “The scale of this problem is scary.” Then, cutting to a 60 Minutes interview with a senior government official, who says: “There are [pension plans] that need to be either replaced or repaired in a very dramatic way.”
  • “The crazy thing is, ask any politician from either side and they’ll tell you [fixing pensions] is incredibly important. Everyone agrees on this. In fact, at a recent hearing, both business and labor…turned out to support [pension fixes]. And even they know how rare that is.”
  • With consensus like this? How are things so bad? Well, one of the problems is, just fixing things is not politically appealing.”
  • “The lack of political urgency in tackling this problem is insane…we should care just as much when our [pension systems] are under threat from the inevitable passage of time. The problem is, no one has made a blockbuster movie about the importance of routine maintenance and repair.”

Maybe Oliver is on to something here, like his intellectual forbearer Jon Stewart. If raising alarms with facts, figures, and rational argument falls on deaf ears, maybe a bit of biting humor and satire will do the trick. There has to be a way to make people sit up and take notice before the dam bursts, the roads crumble, or your retirement plan goes kaphlooey.

PERAscope can’t claim to possess Oliver’s wit, but we will certainly try to bring home our points with a modicum of his elegance, wit, and humor.

Have a look:

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