France Fries

The European country is in virtual shut-down mode. Can it happen here?

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.

--Behemoth social entitlement programs must be privatized to some degree.  This is the "dirty little secret" that has Democrats in utter denial and Republicans walking on eggshells.  Nobody wants to tell the public that Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security cannot survive without being subjected to free-market forces and at least partially removed from the government ledger.

Democrats have been quite successful demagoguing this issue.  So much so, that many Americans are convinced private accounts controlled by Americans themselves, even if they are tied to the safest and most vanilla investment vehicles in existence, are less safe than sending their money to the politicians Washington, D.C.  Even the fact that Americans' retirement dollars are being used as general revenue outlays--meaning the so-called Social Security lock box doesn't exist--has failed to sway people that controlling their own destiny is a far better bet than leaving it in the hands of politicians who have unquestionably demonstrated a total lack of fiscal responsibility.

This mindset must change for the most obvious of reasons:  continuing down our current path with make our current deficit of 13 trillion dollars look like chump change within a generation.  Without serious reform of the Big Three, every other cut in spending will be nothing more than nibbling around the edges.  Much like their counterparts in France and England, the American left can continue to misrepresent reality, but exactly like France and England, the numbers don't lie.

--Everyone should be required pay income taxes.  A non-starter with Democrats for obvious reasons:  the 48% of Americans currently removed from the income tax rolls will more than likely vote for the party willing to give them "something for nothing."  Republicans played tit-for-tat with "compassionate conservatism," and now both parties must contend with a Tea Party movement sick of the fiscally irresponsible charade.  Again, the moral component is important: if one considers taxes payment for the country's upkeep, all citizens should participate in that upkeep no matter how modestly.

--Government should encourage responsible behavior.  This is the exact opposite of what government has been doing for years, and it has now reached unprecedented proportions with "too big to fail" bailouts, nearly a trillion dollars of un-stimulating stimulus and the attempt to prop up a housing market which desperately needs to find a genuine bottom in order to recover.  No country can sustain itself by removing substantial numbers of people in every income bracket from the consequences of their behavior.  Yet note the word "encourage."  Nothing is more annoying  than the current Nanny State approach of mandating particular behavior "for our own good" with "do as I say, not as I do" politicians leading the charge.

The operative word here?  Incentive.  Giving people a good reason to do or not do something, is far superior to telling them what they can or cannot do.  Providing incentive is the proper function of government in a free society.  When government provides disincentive--as in telling people they can afford a house without saving for a down payment or having enough of an income to pay for it--we get what we got in 2008.

There isn't a single item on this list that is impossible to contend with, unless we continue to ignore reality and allow self-entitlement to rule our thinking.  Doubtless the political careers of many hinge on making the baser aspects of human nature seem benign, or moral.  Obviously such politicians have been enormously successful in France, England, Greece and many other places where self-entitlement trumps common sense, common decency, and fiscal reality.

They've also made tremendous inroads here in America.  Yet if current trends hold, the upcoming election may signal the beginning of a refutation of such dubious thinking.  Maybe America will avoid the mayhem-fueling level of spoiled-bratism the French are currently enduring.  But that is only likely if we stick a fork into the odious socialism which comes down to one guilt-inducing idea:  somebody owes me something, whether I've earned it or not.

The bet here is that a substantial number of Americans have stopped feeling guilty.

Arnold Ahlert is a contributing columnist to the conservative website