On his first night as interim replacement for Dan Rather as anchor of CBS Evening News, Bob Schieffer labeled Chile's privatized government pension system a "success story," while failing to note the substantial problems the system has created for millions of low- and middle-income Chileans.
On March 10, following a report noting the lack of support President Bush's Social Security plan is garnering, even among Republicans, Schieffer stated: "A South American country already has a version of what President Bush wants for Social Security: personal retirement accounts. And later in the broadcast, we'll show you how it's working." As Schieffer spoke, a graphic appeared behind him that read "Chile Success Story." In fact, Chile's privatized system has provided lower retirement benefits for low- and middle-income workers than the guaranteed benefits in the systems that they replaced, as Media Matters for America has noted.
CBS News correspondent Trish Regan did note in her report on Chile's system that it has "serious flaws," pointing out that many workers in Chile can't afford to contribute the required 10 percent of their wages and salaries to the privatized system. But she failed to note other serious flaws in the program, which affect even those who can afford to participate in the privatized system, reporting instead that "most of the people who consistently contribute to their accounts ... say the system works."
In fact, while the Chilean program does earn "an average 10 percent annual return on investments" as Regan's report and a January 27 New York Times article noted, the Times also stated that "many middle-class workers who contributed regularly are finding that their private accounts -- burdened with hidden fees that may have soaked up as much as a third of their original investment -- are failing to deliver as much in benefits as they would have received if they had stayed in the old system." Further, the Times reported, many poor Chileans' "contributions were not large enough to ensure even a minimum pension approaching $140 a month."
Ricardo Solari, Chile's minister of labor and social security, told the Times that "it is absolutely impossible to think that a system of this nature is going to resolve the income needs of Chileans when they reach old age." In addition, a Chilean government official "who specializes in pension issues and who spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing retaliation from corporate interests," told the Times,"'What we have is a system that is good for Chile but bad for most Chileans. ... If people really had freedom of choice, 90 percent of them would opt to go back to the old system."
Schieffer has a history of spreading conservative misinformation on Social Security. While hosting the February 27 broadcast of CBS' Face the Nation, Schieffer stated that "critics say that the plan to create these personal savings accounts will cost $1 trillion to $2 trillion down the line and does nothing to resolve the problem of solvency with the system [emphasis added]." Contrary to Schieffer's suggestion, the Bush administration itself has confirmed that the claims are accurate and do not depend on the credibility of unnamed "critics."