Retirement Reform – For Some

Friday, October 29th, 2010

As various forms of unrest continue to percolate throughout France – as always, the website of Humanité, the Communist Party newspaper is probably the best place to go for news about that – the fundamental fact remains true that the retirement reform at the center of contention is becoming law regardless. Yes, word is that it has to be formally approved a couple of times by the two houses of the French legislature and then signed by President Sarkozy, but there’s no indication that there will be any hitch in that process despite any strikes and demonstrations going on in the world outside.

The result: Even as the masses out on the streets shriek NO! the government goes ahead with “Yes” – and this in a liberal democracy. Of course, things are actually not quite so clear-cut as that. All the people out demonstrating often make an impressive sight, but do they really represent the political will of the majority of France’s citizens? And even if they do: France is not a direct democracy where the people vote directly on laws – no modern society is a direct democracy – but rather a representative democracy, where according to one section of the rules of the game (somewhere; I believe it’s in Aristotle) the elected law-makers do have the right to go against the will of their constituents if they believe doing so better serves the nation. And it would seem raising the retirement age from what is financially a completely unsustainable age to one slightly less unsustainable qualifies.

Ah, but even as the Assemblée Nationale and French Senate undertake to do so, they make a mess of it. For while they were passing this retirement reform, they chose not to pass amendment 249 – that’s the one that would have subjected their own even-more-generous lawmakers’ pension system to the same conditions they were about to impose on everyone else’s!

Pretty outrageous, no? (Then again, the US Congress also almost routinely exempts itself from the laws it passes for the rest of the country.) I heard about this little bit of chicanery in the first place from an editorial in today’s Le Monde: You’re making me take to the streets – me, a moderate! It’s written by one Gregory Kapustin, who calls himself an “entrepreneur” and “former moderate.” (Check out his public LinkedIn page!) His message is basically expressed in his title; the actual article fills in the details about how, yes, he understands why pensions must be reformed, and he wishes the French nation would grow up and face the real world of globalization – but really, in exempting themselves the legislators have simply gone too far with their cynicism and he’ll be off to join the nearest street-demonstration. (With gasoline, bottle, and rag-stuffing in hand? He doesn’t say; he still seems to be too much of a professional dude to go that far.)

One can gain a similar feel for what he is fed up with from another article, from Le Point: Sarkozy will take some time to reflect on the situation after retirement reform. The lede:

Nicolas Sarkozy declared on Friday that he will announce when “the time is ripe” for initiatives in response to the French people’s worries and that he first intends to “take some time” to reflect on them.

As becomes clear as the article goes on, however, don’t expect him to start that thinking anytime soon, he’s a busy man. The Chinese president will be visiting Paris soon, then it’s off to Seoul for the G20 summit. Sarkozy made it clear that, when it comes to addressing the concerns of his countrymen he won’t “confuse speed with haste” but will take “time to reflect serenely, calmly, profoundly.” Hey – merci bien, monsieur le président! I bet your own pension is rather more generous than that of the man-on-the-street as well!

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