Pick Your Own Retirement Age

To work or not to work? That is their question…

Unpopular austerity measures across Europe are bringing entire nations to their knees…and politicians back from seaside resort towns! America, is this your future?

Gas stations run dry…flights remain grounded…and half a million jilted upstarts take to the streets daily in France, “defending,” as the Associated Press puts it, “their right to retire at age 60.”

“Production at French oil refineries has been shut down since last week and fuel shortages have hit more than 2,600 petrol stations, or around one in five nationwide, according to an AFP tally of oil industry figures.”

Such is the scale of discontent over having to work in France that President Sarkozy is threatening to return to Paris from the resort town of Deauville, where he is holed up after a summit with Russian and German leaders.

It’s no secret that the French don’t like to work. Neither do most westerners, in fact. It’s just that the French are particularly good at convincing their government to enact laws and rules forcing them to down tools earlier than most nations. At 35 hours per week, the French already enjoy the shortest workweek on the continent. Multiply those five lost hours per week by the period of the average workers’ lifetime and you know what you get? Four years spent watching football and looking impossibly stylish in cafés. To hell with 62. Sarkozy should be hiking the retirement age to 64!

We can’t fault the French though. After all, they have some of the best cafés in the world. Who wouldn’t want to spend their afternoons sipping wine and winking at the pretty passersby? It’s good “work,” if you can get it.

Here’s an idea: NO retirement age. How would this work? Well, for one, the government stays out of your business, allowing you to keep the fruits of your own labor, that which is rightfully yours anyway. Then, when you’ve saved enough money to sponsor your own café-lounging twilight years, and when you’ve decided the humdrum of the workaday life is no longer for you, you clock out and spend your days living off your very own nest egg. Viola!

We’re only half joking, of course. There’s nothing peculiar about the French feeling they have a right not to work. All across the western hemisphere folks are fed up with having to put in a full day’s labor.

“Belgian strike cripples train traffic to Europe neighbours,” reads one headline.

“Spain Strike Sees Industry Halts, Slow Transport,” announced another, recently.

And over the pond, in Ol’ Blighty, crowds of malcontents made their voices heard in London’s city center today.

“Thousands protest against looming cuts,” reads the headline, as if the brave souls were merely trying to dodge the unapologetic scythe of the Grim Reaper himself.

England’s prime minister, David Cameron, is expected to reveal details of his spending review tomorrow, which will be aimed in large part at reducing the country’s crippling deficit. You might think an effort to return a nation running a current account deficit equal to 11.4% percent of GDP to a modicum of frugality would be a step in the right direction, no? Not according to the mob.

“The theatre industry alone brings in more than a billion pounds each year, but we can’t do that without some public subsidy,” Billy McColl, a freelance actor who had come to protest about cuts to arts funding told AFP.

To which your editor replies, “Billy, if you can’t do something without someone else’s involuntary contribution, you shouldn’t do it at all.” In other words, “No, Billy, you can’t have some more.”

The problem, however, is that the Billy McColls of the world – our US readers will recognize them as GM, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, AIG, etc. – are simply following the example set by their own governments. The entire western hemisphere is living at the expense of its creditors, mostly those in the east. Unemployable film studies graduates, early retirees and too-stupid-to-succeed businesses gripe that they need special assistance, provided by their government and borrowed from abroad, if they are to compete with their eastern neighbors on the world stage. They need subsidies, handouts, bailouts, protections and assorted other boondoggles to sharpen their blunt, uncompetitive edge. Otherwise, they cry, it’s just unfair.

“The Taiwanese work too hard…the Chinese too cheaply…the Koreans too intelligently. How are we expected to keep up?”

Haven’t you read the news, Billy? Nobody in their right mind expects you to keep up. That’s the point.

Joel Bowman
for The Daily Reckoning