And it’s simple: with low birth rates, the young end up working to support the old, and then the state is likely to run out of money before their time comes to benefit.
It’s starting to happen all over the Western world, as inevitably as taxes and death (yes, I reversed the order for a reason). And the young who voted for Obama—or his equivalents in Europe—are beginning to realize they’re the ones left holding the (empty) bag:
In Athens, Aris Iordanidis, 25, an economics graduate working in a bookstore, resents paying high taxes to finance Greece’s bloated state sector and its employees. “They sit there for years drinking coffee and chatting on the telephone and then retire at 50 with nice fat pensions,” he said. “As for us, the way things are going we’ll have to work until we’re 70.”
The math doesn’t lie:
According to the European Commission, by 2050 the percentage of Europeans older than 65 will nearly double. In the 1950s there were seven workers for every retiree in advanced economies. By 2050, the ratio in the European Union will drop to 1.3 to 1.
It’s everywhere in Europe, the weaker economies having piggy-banked on the stronger and created an even greater mess. And don’t think we’re immune, either; although so far we’ve been less of a welfare state than the nations of Western Europe, Obama and the Democrats are working overtime to remedy that oversight before America catches on to the unraveling of Europe and prevents its own.
But don’t blame the leaders alone. The sad fact is that such policies were only able to be implemented because people like them. In the short run they lead to popularity, re-election, and the good life—until the bills come due. And by then the populace has become accustomed to (and demanding of) a level of benefits, leisure, and protection from the vicissitudes of life that our forefathers would have considered an unrealizable dream.
If so, that’s because ultimately it is an unrealizable dream. Now that people are catching on, they’re hopping mad. Several generations raised with expectations of cradle to grave security find it hard to accept the idea that it was all a sort of Ponzi scheme, and that they’re on the payer side of the pyramid.
But where there is realization, there might be opportunity:
In Athens, Mr. Iordanidis, the graduate who makes 800 euros a month in a bookstore, said he saw one possible upside. “It could be a chance to overhaul the whole rancid system,” he said, “and create a state that actually works.”
It could be a chance—but to succeed, politicians will have to tell some harsh truths, and people will have to accept them. So far, except for a few pockets of beginning sanity (such as, strangely enough, New Jersey) there’s been a lot of resistance and denial.
In France, for example [emphasis mine]:
President Nicolas Sarkozy has vowed to pass major pension reform this year. There have been two contentious overhauls, in 2003 and 2008; the government, afraid to lower pensions, wants to increase taxes on high salaries and increase the years of work.
But the unions are unhappy, and the Socialist Party opposes raising the retirement age. Polls show that while most French see a pension overhaul as necessary, up to 60 percent say working past 60 is not the answer.
It all reminds me a bit of St. Augustine’s plea to the deity: “make me chaste, but not yet.”