The surprising thing about the rioting in France is that we haven’t yet seen it closer to home. In truth the French people appear to have cottoned on to the fact that the current economic crisis, aided by years of poor planning by western governments, is going to have a dramatic effect on their future lifestyles – dramatic in the sense of a Shakespearean tragedy, while the rest of us are accepting this as if it is ordained by the fates.
It’s not as if the retirement issue is news. Over the 20th century, each decade brought increasing amounts of bureaucratic interference in the lives of the populations of Europe and North America as governments amassed ever-increasing amounts of data about their citizens.
The centralization of births and the regular censuses should have ensured that the ageing populations of the West were planned for. For years, governments have expanded their healthcare services with the explicit aim of extending the lifespan of the people, so increasing longevity can hardly come as a shock.
And yet, now that the populations they so carefully monitored and so assiduously cared for, are coming towards retirement, government spokesmen are aghast that these ageing workers are planning to leave the economic workforce. What did they think was going to happen?
Under the cover of the financial sector meltdown, attempts to lengthen the working life of employees are being made. But these are the very employees that have contributed all their life to social protection schemes that were supposedly designed for this very purpose – to provide security in old age without having to work.
In the UK and Ireland, the populations are taking it quietly but not so the French. Uncaring of world opinion, they are rioting to show their anger at the breach of faith by their government – a breach that has been made by almost all western governments.
It’s hard to see any reason for the apathetic response from other countries except that unlike the French, they seem prepared to let the governments away with years of bad planning and mismanagement. They may have to let Sarkozy have his way, but they’re not going to give him an easy ride.
As our own retirement dreams fade, perhaps there’s a lesson in this for all of us. Rioting may be extreme, but quietly taking the blame for living longer isn’t the answer either. We need to find another way to make our feelings known, if only to prevent endless government assaults on pension savings as an easy way to sort out other problems. But first we have to value ourselves like the French do – retirement is expensive but we’ve paid for it, we’re entitled to it…. and we’re worth it!