I mentioned that Wikipedia math pages are a "dick measuring contest for experts on the subject"
Please check out the comment above by exploder (should be easy to find - it is rated +5 Insightful). In particular:
the articles are written in a way that makes them most useful to the people who donate their time to produce them
I just want to briefly provide an example as to why this is a good thing. I'm a math/stats guy. For me, the free and easily accessible Wikipedia pages are always my first port of call when looking into a new topic/method.
On the other side of the coin is my best mate. He is a med science guy. He avoids Wikipedia like it has the plague and instead uses a resource that is behind a paywall. Why? Because the Wikipedia med science topics are not written for guys like him. They're written to be more accessible. Unfortunately, this makes them of little use to researchers in the field, so they don't bother contributing.
So, what would you prefer? Personally, I think it is better to put up with a little jargon if it ensures a free and open resource that is constantly being peer-reviewed and updated by the top players in a given field. Surely this is preferable to a system where those top players instead choose to contribute to a resource that is behind a paywall?
I don't see how superannuation could possibly be better than (gasp!) allowing ME to prepare for my retirement
That may be true, but can you also vouch for the rest of Australia? Let's be honest, if the government didn't force people to put money aside for their retirement, half the population would drop it in the pokies without a second thought (there was a point in my life where I certainly would have).
A term deposit of course would perform much better.
see eg http://www.rest.com.au/Performance-Investments/InvestmentsPerformance.aspx. In summary, core strategy returned 6.95% p.a. on average over the last 10 years. This is definitely better than a term deposit. Is it more risky? Probably not in the long term. As you have noted, the real issue here is the ratio of fees to amount you have under management. For most super funds, the fees are small fixed costs, so yes, you will get screwed if you only have a $1000 under management. But with a couple of a hundred thousand earning 6.95%, fees are barely noticeable.
Is there even a mandate that these funds have to show a decent return?
No, such a mandate would be impossible to guarantee. For anyone. Period. However, they do have *very* strict rules about what they can and cannot invest in. Your money is not being used to speculate on exotic derivatives markets, for example. Also, part of the mandate prevents directors from recieving renumeration in relation to their duty as trustees. (see eg http://www.rest.com.au/About-REST.aspx). This is important.
but there's a reason they keep posting such spectacular profits
Agreed, Aussie bank profits have been a little too large for comfort over the last few years. But this doesn't have much to do with the way super funds are run.
because that kid will probably never claim the super from that job they had in high school
That is the kid's fault. The system to roll-over super is in place and easy to use.