I’m having a hard time getting the high sense of entitlement that has led to hundreds of street protests in France, some of which have turned violent. More than a million people have been rallying in the streets, going on strike, shutting down transportation systems and generally making a very loud ruckus because the president, Nicolas Sarkozy, wants them to work until the advanced old age of 62.
Sarkozy, it appears, is simply trying to be financially responsible. The national pension system is going bankrupt because people are living longer and fewer people are paying into it. To make the fund more viable, Sarkozy is campaigning to raise the retirement age in France from 60 to 62.
That’s right — those poor, tired folk, not sufficiently rested from their already-short work weeks and eight-week vacations, may have to remain employed until 62 in order to qualify for the benefits they had expected to start rolling in at 60. This in a country where, it seems, productivity already takes a backseat to leisure.
I don’t know what it’s like to live in France. Maybe a life of eating the famously rich French cuisine causes people to get old earlier. Maybe there’s something in the air that inspires idleness. More likely it’s just pure ignorance on my part of what it’s like to live in European culture. In either case, I’m having a hard time stirring up much sympathy.
Like other Americans, I could technically retire at 62 and receive reduced Social Security benefits, but the regular retirement age for people in my age group is 67. And why shouldn’t it be? If people are healthy and still capable of contributing something positive, why should they stop working just because they’ve reached a magic number on the birthday calendar?
And, how can they expect to get benefits from a system that has run out of money? Better to work longer now and keep the system afloat so I can benefit from it later than to lay about and demand monthly checks from an empty account.
I can’t imagine a life devoted only to leisure, without some kind of work to do, whether it’s a paying job or not. I’m confident that I’m not alone in that. I’ve often heard retired friends — busy with volunteer work, part-time jobs, and “honey-do” lists, insist that they’ve been busier in retirement than they ever were when holding down a full-time job.
I can understand the importance of stepping aside from a regular job if there are younger people who need the work and are capable of doing it, but I can’t get my head around the concept of quitting just because I can.
By the time I reach 67, I may be singing a different tune. For now, however, while moving from one task to the next, I’m still humming “Whistle While You Work.”
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.