(Photo: Thinkstock)

It’s easy to jeer at the United Airlines workers who had a doctor dragged off an overbooked plane.

(Related: United Airlines and the Fiduciary Paradox)

The workers who had the doctor dragged away were awful. So were the airline managers who encouraged severe overbooking.

The sad, frightening reality we may forget when we laugh is that, if we are somehow involved in financial services, or plugged in to policymaking well enough to know (vaguely) what a budget reconciliation measure is, we have probably helped overbook the world’s retirement benefits plane.

United Airlines had a few more passengers booked for a particular flight than the flight could handle.

The world’s public retirement benefits programs, public long-term care benefits programs and private defined benefit pension plans appear to be grossly underfunded. That means that, if higher bond yields, gifts from kind space aliens, or other unexpected sources of relief fail to come to the rescue, we will have many more people booked to use retiree support programs than those programs can handle.

Selling high-quality, well-managed retirement savings and long-term care planning arrangements that end up working more or less as hoped is one good way to reduce the number of retirees dragged off the retirement plan over the next 30 years.

It’s hard to know what will really end up working more or less as hoped, and we might be wise to put off laughing too self-righteously at overbookers till the 2050s or so. By then, we may have a better idea of how well we did at matching resources to needs.

— Read Calpers braces for lower returns in ‘most challenging market’ on ThinkAdvisor.