The French fume; Americans are toast

France has lately been convulsed by strikes and protests over the government's plan to reform the country's financially ailing pension system. It includes the odious provision of raising the country's minimum retirement age from 60 to 62.

France has lately been convulsed by strikes and protests over the government's plan to reform the country's financially ailing pension system. It includes the odious provision of raising the country's minimum retirement age from 60 to 62.

Now there's a fork to deflate a souffle. One can understand why French workers are so upset. How can the French spend more time with mistresses or lovers if they must tediously earn a living for a couple of years longer? Of course, no French demonstration is complete without farm tractors showing up on the Champs-Elysees -- and this protest seems to have lacked that, a sadness to traditionalists everywhere.

Instead, garbage piled up in Marseilles and gas stations ran out of fuel in various parts of the country, which is probably why the protests failed to stop government action. No style. No elegance. No farm machinery. And no real reason why France should be shielded from economic realities that afflict everybody else.

Well, that's just great. There goes my dream of sitting in a boulevard cafe on the Left Bank, smoking Gauloise cigarettes made from genuine mattress stuffings, sipping cafe au lait and engaging in existential discussions with fellow expatriates on the ultimate meaning of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Why bother with that now? My fellow idlers in the middle of the morning will all be old people, not the frisky retirees of a mere 60 years old. If the French are going to go the way of American retirement, which was one of their fears, I might as well just retire in America when the time comes. At least I won't need a beret to play golf.


Now, if that Barack Obama were really a socialist, things might be different. But in America, the prospects for anyone having a retirement at all in the future of our children seems increasingly unlikely.

Social Security will eventually run out of money and that "eventually" is coming up on us with the speed of a locomotive.

Any hope of reforming the system looks hopeless, given that the voters seem inclined to stock Congress full of frothing ideologues. Such moderates that will remain after the Tuesday election will be afraid to compromise on anything. If they do, they will be pilloried by secretly funded TV ads suggesting that they hate old people and are mean to kittens and puppies.

Even now, as Social Security dies of funding starvation, the government-is-bad bunch are straining at the bit to dust off the idea that privatization is the only hope, because it allows people the freedom to take their own money and have it disappear when the stock market crashes.

Meanwhile, somewhere back at the ranch, the Ex-President Who Must Remain Nameless, the one we supposedly cannot blame for anything, will be at his ease rocking in an old chair, knowing that his legacy will be completed at last.

Once they come for Social Security, it is logical that Medicare will then be rooted out, because it is a government program, and hence socialism in the current thinking. We cannot allow our dear seniors to be seduced by socialism. It is only one remove from putting them on a diet of heavy sauces.

In the transition period, someone will propose that the retirement age be raised to -- oh I don't know -- 70 perhaps, 75? And with company retirement benefits gone the way of the dodo bird, seniors will have to work until then. That's assuming they have any jobs.

Yes, they certainly will have jobs. They will just have to go to China or India to get them. For if the jobs have been outsourced, why can't seniors be outsourced, too? The cost of living over there is very cheap. They could get a nice plate of rice or legumes for next to nothing.


Between the French welfare state and American survival-of-the-fittest ethic, a happy medium has to exist. But at the rate we are going, this country is going to end up being medium with little or no happiness.

At least the French, young and old, take the future seriously and make a show of their fears. They may surrender but we are the surrender monkeys. In the last week of an important election, has anyone insisted on a serious discussion of jobs for the young and secure retirement for the old? We can't even muster a decent convoy of lawn tractor mowers to ride to Washington in protest.

No, it is all Congressman X is a serial bed-wetter and Congressman Y supports Nancy Pelosi (which apparently is worse). The French are ridiculous but we are not the ones to talk.

Tant pis! Quelle dommage!

Henry is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. E-mail him at .

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