Emmanuel Macron’s courage on pension reform offers a lesson for Biden and Congress

071917 Rogan MACRON
What’s sad here is that France has traditionally been strong on equipment budgeting. (Stephane Mahe/Pool Photo via AP) Stephane Mahe

Emmanuel Macron’s courage on pension reform offers a lesson for Biden and Congress

President Emmanuel Macron of France isn’t courageous when it comes to holding China accountable, even if his recent stance on defense spending is more encouraging. Still, Macron is showing significant boldness as he moves to reform his nation’s broken pension system.

President Joe Biden, along with both Republicans and Democrats in Congress, could learn from him.

The centerpiece of Macron’s reforms, now enacted by a special edict, is the requirement that most French workers not receive pension (Social Security) payments until they reach 64 years of age. The current pension eligibility age is 62. For a full pension, workers will also have to work one additional year. While Parliament did not explicitly approve the reforms, Macron’s government defeated two no-confidence votes, upholding his action.

Speaking on Wednesday, Macron made his case clearly. “Between short-term opinion polls and the broader interest of the nation, I choose (the latter).” He continued, “If it is necessary to accept unpopularity today, I will accept it.”

The French people aren’t happy. So they’re doing one of the things they do best — taking to the streets to protest. Mass strikes have caused disruption to garbage collection and incineration, transport, school, ports, airports, energy refineries, and other areas. Thursday will see collective action across France. It’s good news for the rats, at least. Paris City Council says 9,500 tons of garbage remain on the streets of the French capital.

FRANCE’S PENSION WOES OFFER A WARNING FOR AMERICA

Americans may be shocked by the reaction these reforms have provoked. After all, our own Social Security system doesn’t start paying out full pensions until the age of 67. And demographic changes mean that the eligibility age for Social Security and Medicare (65 years of age) will have to rise in the future. Even after these reforms, then, the French will have it pretty good! Indeed, most Western European nations don’t start paying out until residents turn 65.

In France, however, the expansive power of unions and unaffordable public benefits are now meeting the immovable reality of aging demographics. The French people are reluctant, obviously, to be told to work longer before they can receive the ingredients of their hopefully happy retirement. In turn, the successful history of French protest movements and mathematical incontinence of union and left-wing politicians means that the public has reason to march in denial of fiscal reality. But Macron knows these reforms are only the starting point of what future governments will have to do if France is to remain solvent. He wants to break the third rail of French politics for reasons of legacy but primarily because he must do so. France has no other choice.

The French president deserves credit for standing firm. If only Biden, Trump, and other American politicians shared his reform-minded courage.

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