Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Now What?

Yesterday's protests against retirement reform were large enough, it seems. Sarkozy en prend acte, says the Élysée, but will stay the course on pushing the legal age up to 62. But François Chérèque, appearing on France2 last night, exhibited the confidence of a gambler who believes he has a good betting hand. Meanwhile, a group of academics, union leaders, etc., is calling for a new approach. Of course many of these same voices have been calling for a new approach for a long time, and their voices have gone unheard.

In watching man-in-the-street interviews on TV last night, I had the impression that all the rhetoric surrounding the legal age had produced a distorted image in the minds of many of the demonstrators, who seemed to believe that they had to paint a rather desperate picture of the physical condition of the typical middle-aged Frenchman in order to "stop Sarkozy." There was a sort of surenchère at work: "In my job, you're worn out at 55." "A cashier on her feet 8 hours a day is washed up at 50." "Movers are afflicted with permanent back injuries by the time they turn 45." Etc. One can't help but notice a certain gap between this sort of rhetoric and the rather bland and unspecific call for a more flexible approach to retirement in the manifesto linked to above. As in other matters touching the economy, a basic effort of education seems in order. People need to have a better grasp of the life cycle of work, the handling of these issues in other countries, and the kinds of work that older workers are and are not capable of doing. Because surely these vociferous protesters are overplaying their hands when they suggest that not only should the legal not be raised to 62, but 60 is already too high.