Think about it... most types of retirement funds that provide tax shelters for investment income are okay when the economy is doing okay. I mean, as long as you don't need the money right now, everything is dandy. But when things get dicey and the market value of your retirement portfolio looks like its going to tank, you can't get out without handing the government 10% or more off the top in penalties. Not such a great deal during a recession.
Lots of people have there money invested in IRAs, 401ks and other forms of retirement funds. They all sounded like a great idea at the time. You get to stash money away without paying taxes on the returns it earns over time... except a lot of people aren't making money on their accounts right now with the economy in the crapper... and they can't bail out of the markets without giving up 10% off the top.
In effect, Wall Street and the government are working in tandem to insure that investors in the stock market have to think long and hard about whether its worth paying the penalties for an early withdrawal in order to avoid calamity in the market.
Of course, that's only an issue for people who understand how a 401k plan works in the first place. How many Wal-Mart associates (Wal-Mart's 401k has 1.6 million employees enrolled) do you think have enough of a grasp on economics to realize that the turmoil in the stock market right now could turn that 3% of their paycheck they've been counting on for retirement into pennies on the dollar?