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While America Aged  By  cover art

While America Aged

By: Roger Lowenstein
Narrated by: Michael McConnohie
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Publisher's Summary

In While America Aged, best-selling author Roger Lowenstein explains how corporations and governments ran up ruinous pension and health-care promises to workers - promises that are now coming due and that will hit America like a tsunami if nothing is done.

Negotiating high benefits means gambling with future finances - and when the farm gets sold out from underneath major corporations or public institutions, it affects all of us, and in ways we might not imagine. With his trademark narrative panache, Lowenstein unravels the truth about how pensions work in America and illuminates the impending crisis.

©2008 Roger Lowenstein (P)2008 BBC Audiobooks America

What listeners say about While America Aged

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

A dry departure from L's usual page turner, but

This is an outstanding condensation of the the history of US labor relations as they unfolded within the Auto industry. Lowenstien paints a grim, but I fear all too accurate, picture of the futility of taxpayer recent bailout of an already comatose industry. He is even handed in his citing of causes: inept management and a culture of expediency matched by an ever over reaching UAW. Even more sobering is his treatment of New York City and State, the culture of cronyism and pandering that lead to disastrous and irrevocable concessions given to the unions over the years. Lowenstien names names, and cites specific salaries and pension obligations and points out those who stand to earn more in retirement at the age of 55 or younger, than they did while they were working. Astonishing.

Read this book before the next strike is threatened.

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars

More detail than I wanted

I listened to this book in order to better understand pensions, since I am (apparently) part of a shrinking number of working Americans still accruing a one. The book goes into a little more detail than I had hoped for, particularly in regards to the San Diego pension crisis and the NY city workers pension fiasco. The reader is not the best, either. So, while you get the general concepts behind why pensions are being phased out, you may feel bogged down a bit by the minutia.

3 people found this helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars

Started out well, finished horribly

The first portion of the book does a good job of describing how executives and politicians constantly mortgaged their futures to meet unions current demands. But then the last chapter suggests solutions like... trusting politicians even more! Wonderful, but that’s how this mess got started, remember? At one point he even suggests default 401k options for annuities. Easily the dumbest idea I’ve ever hear. Newsflash genius, annuities offer FAKE protection from worthless guarantees based upon the value of the assets the people that buy the annuities are too afraid to purchase themselves. So... basically the same risk. An annuity is like a car insurance policy that covers a fender bender but not a head on collision.

After all the research and time spent, his suggested solutions indicate he knows basically nothing about the actual problem. Horribly disappointed. Ruined the value of listening.

2 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars

Timely information neutral presentation

Good coverage of combined misuse of trust by retirees in the system. The attempts to maintain an "unbiased position" leave the implication that the workers are equally to blame as the owners. If that is so, how do we explain the massive shift in wealth distribution -- the autoworker who retires at 50 years old does not have a comparable portion to the CEO who is let go with a REAL golden parachute.

2 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars

While America Aged

An interesting book. However, the monotone voice of the reader makes it hard to listen.

2 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars

Must Reading to Understand the Challenges of Pensi

Although this book was written a decade ago, it is very relevant today. Lowenstein traces the history of labor negotiations in both the private and public sector. In both cases, management awarded unsustainable pensions, then underfunded them.

In the private sector, as once dominant companies and industries suddenly faced foreign competition, a much smaller number of active workers (or a downsized corporation) made pension payments far below what was required to meet contractual obligations of a larger number of pensioners who were living much longer than projected. The math rarely worked. And even when it did, cash-strapped corporation made deals with unions to reduce or suspend payments, thus kicking a financial crisis down the road. Foreign competition alone didn't end US dominance of certain industries. Rather, it was foreign competition unburdened by pension obligations that offered products at a lower price (even after shipping across the Pacific Ocean).

In the public sector, different forces are at play. First, governments don't go out of business or relieve themselves of pension responsibilities by declaring bankruptcy. Second, the people handing out more generous pension benefits have no real financial stake in the fiscal impact of their actions, since they don't have personal funds at risk and won't be there when the obligations come due. Third, unlike private pensioners, public pension beneficiaries can fire those who try to rein in pension benefits by voting them out of office.

Lowenstein describes in detail how three different entities - one private company and two units of government - approached union negotiations and pensions. He adds corollary stories about other entities in similar situations and how they handled the issue. Bottom line: A few were able to effect real change before a crisis, but most either were blind or spineless to propose action that would stabilize pension obligations.

If you're interested in the competitive nature of global markets, private pensions, public pension, or the challenges that Social Security faces, read this book. It'll be your best investment of nine ours and 13 minutes. Have only eight hours to spare? Adjust the speed to 1.25, and it'll be the best eight hours that you can invest in understanding this issue.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Confusing mix of evidence and conclusions

What did you like best about While America Aged ? What did you like least?

If the author set out to simply document the intricacies of three unrelated cases of overgenerous pension systems swamping their providers, like a parasite killing its host, a fine book. But the author also appends a conclusion to the book and short editorializing throughout that seem to belong to a different book. The author doesn't realize that the three examples he thoroughly details are actually a giant beacon warning others to avoid the same path, and incongruously advocates further adoptions of pension systems...even after his devoted cataloging of their disastrous effects. It's a very strange book.

If you’ve listened to books by Roger Lowenstein before, how does this one compare?

Narration was great

Which character – as performed by Michael McConnohie – was your favorite?

I didn't even realize the narration was done by separate voices. Very pleasant presentation.

If this book were a movie would you go see it?

No. It's like 10 hours documenting the many, hellish dangers of smoking, but from a guy who thinks everyone should still be buying and consuming cigarettes, just in moderation.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Good for younger generation to read

While slightly dated, it is a good example of the cost of future social contracts and that corruption and “pay later” approaches almost always lead to disastrous effect.

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Consumer Beware

Author did a detailed review of America's past, current and forthcoming pension issues in private sector. Would have liked to learn more about public, political intrigue related to Social Security and Thrift Saving Program (TSP).

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    5 out of 5 stars

True stories you won't forget

Roger Lowenstein lays out a complicated topic in an accessible story form. Well worth the time to educate yourself on this topic. I will be paying attention to the politics and police/firefighters union negotiations from now on.