Paris in the Springtime
Two recent opinion pieces discuss the French ritual of strikes in May. The Wall Street Journal writes,
Four workers financed each pensioner in 1960 and two in 2000. By 2020 the ratio will be one-to-one. Mr. Raffarin has told the French that “If we do nothing today, in less than 20 years our pensions will be reduced by half.”
…The average French worker now retires at 58.7 years old, earlier than workers in any of the other big European Union countries.
But the public unions are a powerful force against change. One-quarter of the French work force is employed by the government, which means the state-sector unions can create a lot of trouble.
In France, public servants now have better salaries, fewer working hours, longer holidays, and earlier and more lucrative retirement packages than workers in the private sector. On top of that, they benefit from the “employment security,” a priceless advantage in a country with high unemployment. A recent poll showed logically that 77 percent of French citizens between the ages of 15 and 25 want to become public servants. …
As public services are also state monopolies, strikes are always successful. When public servants go on strike, the country is nearly paralyzed. The politicians have a tendency not to resist.
These stories bring together three phenomena that trouble me. One is the way that government pension programs and demographic trends are increasing the number of non-workers that each worker must support. Another is the political power of government workers.
The third phenomenon is intimidation by street mobs. As Brad DeLong wrote,
Democracy is not to be found in the streets. What we find in the streets are vanguard parties, the dictatorships they bring, and politics understood not as collective self-government but as expressive theatrical performances.
For Discussion. If there is no pension reform, what will the French economy look like in twenty years?