France is into its third or fourth day of striking over President Nicolas Sarkozy’s bold plan to increase the retirement age from 60 to a whopping 62. Of course, striking in France is a national hobby, a way of getting outside and enjoying the sun. French strikes are dog-bites-man headlines.
The real story is why the citizenry is withholding their labor to protest that they should not have to labor and should instead be taken care of an extra two years of their life. Now, I am no expert in French economics and so cannot say whether retaining the 60-year retirement mark will be as disastrous for the State as Sarkozy says it will be. And perhaps French offices are such hellish places that the faster one can escape from them, the better. But just look at the following statistics.
Because higher education is largely paid for by taxing those who labor, the average French citizen does not enter the workforce until he is 22 to 25. That is, the care and feeding of the first 22 to 25 years of an average Frenchman’s life are paid for by somebody other than himself; first his parent or parents, then working citizens. After he himself begins working, this homme moyen expects to cease laboring at age 60. The care and feeding for remaining years of his life, which will total roughly between 20 to even 30 or more years, will be funded by taxing those younger folks who still labor.
It is easy to see that since the average Frenchman will work from 35 to 38 years of his life, and will have others work for him from 42 to 55 years, that from 53% to 61% of the man’s life will be supported by the labor of others. This crude estimate does not account for many factors, and it is only for a fictional “average man”, but it is suggestive. More than half a life spent laying in the vines eating grapes grown by the labor of others!
The hidden part of the equation is that the care of the young and the aged, indolent men are not merely being supported by an increasingly small fraction of the population. They are also being supported by the labors of the dead. This phenomenon does not apply just to Frenchmen, but to all of us.
A mere century ago, and except for a trivial fraction of humanity—kings, queens, and the like—-no person could expect to have the majority of his life supported by others. Before, say, 1900, lives were shorter and filled with sweat from a man’s first steps until his last. This included weekends! But from the year 2000, lives are longer and a man can now expect to spend a significant portion of his life in the pursuit of pleasure.
As said, this is only possible because those before us bequeathed us the knowledge and the tools to keep us well-fed, clothed, and housed. All evidence is that we appear to be doing the same for the generations that will come after us. That is, we are adding to the knowledge and tools which will allow our grandchildren to work even less of their lives than a modern Frenchman.
How long before we arrive at the point where food, clothing, and housing are so cheap the world over that no further effort need be made to procure them? A century? Two? Will life then become so easy that our base survival necessities are “free”? What happens to us then?
There are other things that drive us—hate, envy, lust, pride, a desire to best others—so it is likely that knowledge will increase. But by how much? When your dinners and entertainment are guaranteed, how much of the population will opt for a lackadaisical life? If labor isn’t necessary, many won’t bother.
But, humans being what they are, they will always find something to complain about. Given history, it is rational to assume that irritants which we now consider trivial, petty, and even non-existent will seem to our grandchildren gross outrages, just as French citizens scream like stuck cochons when asked to stick at it for a mere two more years. So it is likely that some innovation will continue.
That is, if our grandchildren bother to have grandchildren of their own. If you’re so busy concentrating on where you’ll find your next distraction, or “experience”, you’ll not spend much effort on procreating and bearing the burdens that activity implies.
It is the old question: how much success is too much?