For months, the French government has undertaken a comprehensive effort to balance their national budget and restructure government spending in order to achieve fiscal discipline. Probably the most controversial measure is the attempt to scale down retirement benefits for public workers and push back the national retirement age from 60 to 62. Through the perspective of workers and their unions, government is failing to protect the benefits they were promised while there may be legitimate questions as to whether or not particular measures are simply the most obvious solutions instead of the best solutions.
Pushing back retirement for those who physically cannot compete into their golden years is a serious concern. In addition, European public sector employees do not always have the most competitive salaries to begin with. Of course, there are also concerns over what extending the length of employment will do in terms of economic opportunities for young workers. Consequently, the French People, who were largely left out of the process and have resisted reforms vigorously, have a legitimate right to protest.
From the perspective of Americans, who are generally looking at a retirement age of no earlier than 65, and most of the world, the French government appears to be acting quite responsibly. That said, the outrage of protesters and their subsequent riots clearly demonstrate Nicolas Sarkozy and his allies are certain to be ousted from power in the next election. In United States, the Healthcare reform law and the legislative process by which it was passed helped start the sweeping Republican victory in the 2010 Midterm Election. The “Tea Parties” of both countries have helped create serious resistance to reform. Such is the weakness of democracy when trying to do the right thing for the Nation is punished by the People.
One of the most common themes often echoed by opponents of the healthcare reform effort was the need for government to obey the will of the People. Although this is certainly true, and the election did demonstrate the power of the People, the United States is a democratic republic, not a pure democracy. This means voters of each representative’s district are charged with electing an official who best reflects their views. Representatives, however, are not necessarily supposed to enact legislation based on our immediate demands. We are supposed to trust our representatives to vote for our interests, not just our desires.
Obviously, this creates a major problem when doing what is perceived to be necessary is controversial. Unfortunately, democratic societies too often punish their leaders for doing what must be done. In the case of Healthcare Reform, there was no honest debate, because certain groups in Washington decided to demonize any controversial ideas before they could be considered then how the legislation was to be passed became more of a concern over what should be in the bill. Like the French, Americans engaged in the least constructive debate possible then punished those who tried to pass something less than perfect. With a number of legislative challenges looming, including Budget Reform, the US is in serious danger of punishing leaders for addressing these issues, just as the French are.