Really I wonder, when do the French get to the point of saying enough is enough?
The above photo isn't recent, it is from March 2009 telling us that if there is one thing that the French do with consistency, it is protesting, something, anything, everything...
OK, we've all know that this latest month of protest has been about raising the retirement age, for public workers, (about 1 in every 4 works for the State in some form or another) from 60 to 62.
So if you are French, after 35 hour work weeks, and 6 weeks off for vacation, retirement should start at 60.
As Guy Sorman wrote in the Wall Street Journal, "The French have a long tradition of taking to the streets as an irrational answer to economic reforms." Sorman goes on to remind us that "Alexis de Tocqueville, then a member of parliament, wrote in his "Memoires" that the French knew a lot about politics and understood nothing about economics".
And it isn't just the public workers who are protesting. High school and university students have gotten in on the fun too. " For the young, street riots are a sort of generational rite of passage. They replay the Revolution as their parents did in May 1968"
In disagreement with Sorman I will say this. There is a huge economic and societal problem with France when the French are unemployed at 30 and expected to work at 62. Since there is virtually no new job growth in the private sector, the older workers need to retire to make jobs available for the young.
Still, the State needs to be fed if government pension accounts are going to have enough to pay for retirement benefits.
Here in the US, our middle aged managers have suffered for years from rampant age discrimination. How often do we read about the 50 something year old manager who has gotten downsized and replaced with a younger and cheaper employee. That 50 year old is never going to get that level of job back. And now with record high unemployment, many are only so happy to still have a job at 60 years old.
In addition, many workers who have formally retired from decades of work at their career jobs, desire to continue working in related fields or to go into some new field altogether. And before our recent economic boondogle, people could do this. Jobs were available. Who knows now.
Recently, I've been reading the books of Elizabeth Gaskell, the female Dickens, who wrote novels dealing with the conditions of factory workers during the Industrial Revolution. A key element in her books, aside from the extraordinarily harsh conditions of life where people lived at the edge and poverty was the norm, was the desire to work. At that time when workers went on strike or factories cut back production, people starved...to death.
Thankfully today, striking workers are not going to starve in France, the UK or in the US.
I'm very glad that at least today we live with an abundance of goods that can tide us over in bad economic times.
Virginia Postrel's article in the WSJ, Saved By The Closet, we've got so much stuff that it's easing the slumpdiscusses this phenomenon.
Americans have a lot of stuff—so much, in fact, that getting it under control has become a major cultural fantasy. Witness the Container Store, whose aisles of closet systems and colorful boxes peddle dreams as seductive as any fashion shoot.
Over the past few decades, as businesses have learned to streamline their inventories, American households have done just the opposite, accumulating ever more linens and kitchen gadgets, toys and TV sets, sporting goods and crafts supplies. "Because of all the shopping we've done, many of us now own lots of great stuff we never use anymore.
Because of our rampant consumerism in the past, we don't live on the edge anymore.
In today's sour economy, however, what once seemed like waste is starting to look like wealth: assets to draw on when times get tough (and not just because of all those ads promising top dollar for your gold jewelry). Material abundance, it turns out, produces economic resilience. Even if today's recession approached Great Depression levels of unemployment, the hardship wouldn't be as severe, because today's consumers aren't living as close to the edge.
Reading so much in the blogosphere questioning can we get by with less and can we survive on a wardrobe of 15 items or less for a month or some such challenge, I am very thankful that I don't have to because I have a closet, or three, full of clothes.
And I'm also thankful that I have a job that I'm passionate about. I can only hope that at the age of 60 I am still doing what I am doing now.