Retirement Planner: Financial reform still a pipe dream

San Francisco's Pacific Research Institute hosted a panel discussion reflecting the thoughts of four free-market adherents -- including Paul Atkins, a former commissioner of the Securities and Exchange Commission. 
The Vanguard fund organization has now eclipsed Fidelity as the world's largest mutual fund company. The score is $2.2 trillion to $1.9 trillion and the gap continues to widen.  
 
The 1983 movie "Risky Business," starring Tom Cruise, came to mind recently when I heard the report that the inclination to take risk is all about personality more than anything else.  
 
If I had to choose one reasonably sophisticated book on how to invest money, it would be "A Random Walk Down Wall Street" by Burton G. Malkiel.  
 
If we need any pipelines, they should probably contain water from Canada rather than crude oil.  
 
Most financial institutions now have free online planning tools that allow you to plug in all of your existing assets, your future contribution amounts and your expected returns and retirement needs when the big day comes. They offer a more comprehensive and accurate glimpse of the financial future, but they lack the convenience of the thumbwheel -- something you can spin for inspiration during commercials without leaving your Lazy Boy.  
 
As a columnist writing about retirement-related financial issues, it helps to have my 98-year-old father serve as a laboratory allowing a glimpse into the challenges that seniors have to confront.  
 
Check your retirement plan statement and ask for something better if you're paying more than a half a percent of your account balance in fees per year.  
 
At the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, I struck up a conversation with someone who had cobbled together a car out of what looked like 50-gallon aluminum drums welded together -- with a bubble windshield on the front and a huge engine on the back.  
 
For those who deify what passes for investment genius, the news this month is that Bill Gross left the bond management company he has been running for more than 40 years.