History reminds us that the French people have taken to the streets to protest and/or overthrow their government on a somewhat regular basis over the last 250 years. According to Peter Jones, a professor of French History at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom, “If revolution is a regime change involving collective physical force, then revolutions took place in France in 1789, 1830, and 1848”.
The 1789 revolt is what history books teach as THE French Revolution. In June of that year, widespread social distress led to the creation of a National Assembly. The unrest continued until July 14th when the Storming of the Bastille took place. This led to a series of radical measures by the Assembly, including the imposition of state control over the Catholic Church in France and the extension of the right to vote.
Source: Encyclopedia Brittanica
The first revolt ultimately ended with King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette losing their heads via the guillotine. The second revolution, also known as the July Revolution, saw the House of Bourbon dethroned and replaced by the House of Orleans. The third revolution sometimes known as the Revolution of 1848 ended the reign of the House of Orleans and brought in a period known as the Second Republic.
More recently, the French people took to the streets on a weekly basis, beginning in November 2018. This was known as the Yellow Vests Revolution. It was initially motivated by rising crude oil and fuel prices, a high cost of living, and economic inequality. The movement argued that a disproportionate burden of taxation in France was falling on the working and middle class, especially in rural and suburban areas.
Sources: Variety.com and Theconversation.com
Protests began again this month when French President Emmanuel Macron took the bold step of raising the legal retirement age in the country from 62 to 64. In doing this, he bypassed parliament, and potentially set up his government for a vote of no confidence. He stated that this extraordinarily unpopular reform was necessary to address financial deficits that were created by pandemic spending and the European energy crisis.
Even with the increased age, the French people will still enjoy one of the more generous pension systems in the European Union. They have one of the youngest government-funded pension ages in the western industrialized world, as you can see in the chart below.
We believe that US lawmakers should be keeping a close eye on this political situation and the fallout. These widespread strikes and marches could not only indicate the potential end of Macron’s government but could also give a hint to what US politicians may face in trying to reform our own Social Security system.
Each year, the Social Security Trustees release a report telling how long the Social Security surplus will last. The current forecast from last year’s report was 2035, just 12 years from now. If no changes are made before then, the benefits paid would have to be reduced by 20% or more. The new report will be released in the next few months.
More than 66 million Americans are currently receiving monthly Social Security benefits. This equates to approximately 20% of Americans. We all know that something must change in the next 12 years to keep Social Security funded as a baseline retirement income social safety net for Americans.
Given the potential for increased life expectancy due to advances in healthcare, one of the changes under consideration would be raising our retirement age from 67 to as high as age 70. However, this would still only solve less than half of the projected shortfall.
The longer we wait to address this issue, the more difficult it will be to fix. There have been more than a few politicians that have tried making this program untouchable. However, if politicians continue to delay creating a real solution to the situation, the more draconian the ultimate measures will need to be.
We are hopeful that legislators from both sides of the aisle can come together and address both the revenue and expense side of the Social Security system. Our goal should be to create more palatable solutions sooner than later. We hope the most recent of the French protests serve as a wake-up call to those on Capitol Hill. It would benefit all Americans as we continue “Moving Life Forward”.
© 2023 Jesse Hurst
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