In explaining why Rhode Island seems to have succeeded in reforming public pensions while Chicago, Illinois, and New Jersey remain mired in a morass of lawsuits and plummeting funding ratios Mary Williams Walsh called upon her inner-Baudelaire:
Ms. Raimondo, who started her battle as state treasurer, faced obstacles not unlike those confronting Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago: entrenched political machinery, powerful unions, a decades-old practice of promising rich pensions without setting aside enough money to pay them, truculent taxpayers, record numbers of retirees and an all-enveloping fog of discredited numbers.
The upshot of the story is that the pension promises made in Rhode Island were not contractual so they could be changed by a legislature scared into action (which Central Falls did) but it was that last phrase, thrown out there and not explored, that hit home.
The ‘all-enveloping fog of discredited numbers’ I see as referring to those actuarial reports certifying bogus liability valuations at the behest of short-sighted stakeholders who are either incapable or disinclined to see the truth so they wallow in that convenient fog as the vast majority follows their lead. But there are people out there who know (and care) enough to be that carillon. I see myself as one. Others that come to mind:
The late Dunstan McNichol
Jack Dean at pensiontsunami
Mary Pat Campbell at Actuarial Outpost
* from Charles Baudelaire’s ‘The Broken Bell”
Bitter and sweet it is on these long winter nights
To sit before the fire and watch the smoking log
Beat like a heart; and hear our lost, our mute delights
Call with the carillons that ring out in the fog.
What certitude, what health, sounds from that brazen throat,
In spite of age and rust, alert! O happy bell,
Sending into the dark your clear religious note,
Like an old soldier crying through the night, “All’s well!”
I am not thus; my soul is cracked across by care;
Its voice, that once could clang upon this icy air,
Has lost the power, it seems, — comes faintly forth, instead,
As from the rattling throat of a hurt man who lies
Beside a lake of blood, under a heap of dead,
And cannot stir, and in prodigious struggling dies.
— Edna St. Vincent Millay, Flowers of Evil (NY: Harper and Brothers, 1936)