The Great American Retirement Fraud

86 Pages Posted: 1 Jan 2022 Last revised: 28 Oct 2022

See all articles by Michael Doran

Michael Doran

University of Virginia School of Law

Date Written: December 31, 2021


Over the past quarter century, Congress has enacted several major reforms for retirement plans and individual retirement accounts, usually with large bipartisan, bicameral majorities. Legislators have claimed each time that the reforms would improve retirement security for millions of Americans, especially rank-and-file workers. But the supposed interest in helping lower-income and middle-income earners has been a stalking horse for the real objective of expanding tax subsidies for higher-income earners. The legislation has repeatedly raised the statutory limits on contributions and benefits, delayed the start of required distributions, and weakened statutory non-discrimination rules – all to the benefit of affluent workers and the financial-services companies and retirement-plan service providers that collect fees from retirement plans and retirement savings. The result has been spectacular growth in the retirement accounts of higher-income earners but modest or even negative growth in the accounts of middle-income and lower-income earners.

Keywords: Tax policy, retirement policy, tax expenditures, legislation

JEL Classification: H24, K34

Suggested Citation

Doran, Michael, The Great American Retirement Fraud (December 31, 2021). Available at SSRN: or

Michael Doran (Contact Author)

University of Virginia School of Law ( email )

580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States

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