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Anyone wondering where the Euro-style socialism endorsed by American progressives will lead us, need only cast their eyes towards France. That country is in virtual shut-down mode, led by gangs of youths for whom car burning has become a national sport. What has mobilized the descendants of those who overthrew an out-of-touch, self-entitled aristocracy beginning in 1789? A remarkably similar sense of aristocratic self-entitlement: they are protesting government’s intention to raise the retirement age–from 60 to 62.
When one suffers from such a deep-seated sense of entitlement, reality is the first casualty. Thus, the fact that France is raising the retirement age a mere two years–because they have a 32 billion dollar shortfall in their budget–means nothing. So apparently does the fact that life expectancy in France is now nearly 82 years of age, which means every retiree will collect health and welfare payments a minimum of fifteen years on average.
Not nothing, exactly. It means it’s time to burn cars, loot stores, and clash with police. It means angry marches and blocking petrol distribution sites to the point where over 3000 of the nation’s 13,000 petrol stations have run out of fuel. It means piles of uncollected trash, closed schools and under-staffed hospitals as public sector workers strike. Half of all train service and an equal percentage of flights are grounded as well.
All for what? “We are here to defend our pensions,” a youth named Quentin, 15, said. “People shouldn’t have to retire at 70, especially when they have had to do difficult, manual jobs all their lives.” “If the old work for two more years before retiring then there’ll be fewer jobs for the young,” said an 18-year-old girl named Maeva. “And there’s enough youth unemployment in France as it is. I probably won’t get a job until I’m 30.” Maeva had something far more revealing to say as well: “It was unbelievably easy to cause all this chaos. It took no time at all.”
No doubt. When one has been raised to believe government is the dispenser of all things necessary, it becomes almost unimaginable to discover that such dispensation has fiscal limits, or that France is, as Margaret Thatcher once elegantly expressed, “running out of other people’s money” to spend.
France is not alone. England’s Chancellor George Osborne has announced a plan which would be the biggest spending cuts enacted in the United Kingdom since the end of WWll. Up to 500,000 public sector jobs could be eliminated. And just like France, England is bracing for protests led by public sector unionists who, much like their French fellow travelers, cannot see past their self-interest and grasp the reality that the treasury in Great Britain is also running on empty. And both countries are echoes of similar uprisings in Greece earlier this year.
Is America headed in the same direction? With regard to our national economy, it is indisputable. The bipartisan effort to make government “all things to all people” in which Republicans abandoned their principles and Democrats embraced theirs, has led us to the fiscal abyss. And it is completely within the realm of imagination to envision a coalition of unionists, community organizers, racial arsonists and assorted communists, socialists and other left-wing organizations marching on Washington, D.C. demanding “social justice.” Doubtless they would also be embracing self-entitlement without regard to fiscal reality. And doubtless much of it would resonate as much here as it does in Europe.
Unfortunately, reality eventually prevails regardless, and at some point America is going to be forced to have a serious national conversation about such reality. To wit:
–Life expectancy is increasing inexorably. If one wishes to trace the root cause for almost every fiscal problem this nation faces, people living longer will eventually rear its head. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the same Social Security System which worked when people retired at 65 and, on average, died a year-and-a-half later, is unsustainable when people now live, on average, fourteen years longer. Chances for serious reform? They don’t call Soc Sec the “third rail of politics” for nothing. What separates it from the other entitlement plans is that Americans directly contribute to it, via their paychecks. Thus, even those Americans who yearn for fiscal sanity draw a line using the argument that, “I paid for it, I’m entitled to it.”
Undeniably true–up to a point. Yet what does Social Security become when the totality of what one has contributed to it (including the interest accrued) is exceeded by that which one draws out of it? Perhaps telling Americans the truth, as in the fact that one’s retirement check just became a welfare check might make serious reform easier to implement.
We can’t continue to obscure the difference the difference between helpless and hapless. There is no country in the world more generous than America when it comes to helping those who truly can’t help themselves. At the same, time a government which has spent the last five decades catering to the lowest common denominator has facilitated the kind of moral corruption which produces legions of Americans who consider themselves “victims.” It is a moral corruption evidenced, for example, by the highest percentage of out-of-wedlock birth rates in our nation’s history. Such is only possible when “alternative lifestyles” are championed, even when those lifestyles virtually ensure that one will remain poor.
De-stigmatizing such human foibles as laziness or lack of ambition–or worse, telling people such traits are “someone else’s fault”–has produced precisely the same sense of self-entitlement currently tearing France apart. Americans are sick to death of seeing able-bodied fellow Americans lining up for government handouts and programs. Even more so, when the country is going broke underwriting those quite capable of underwriting themselves. As I’ve said before, Americans have no problem being their brother’s keeper. Being his enabler is unseemly–and unaffordable.
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