Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Ron Smith: Pensions and Revolutionary Justice

Isn’t it interesting how the political left can so easily set aside the democratic process? Legislation to raise the age of retirement in France from 60 to 62, has already been accepted by the popularly-elected National Assembly. It will shortly be passed by the Senate, having been initially proposed by the now embattled President. But the left are taking to the streets.

The economic and demographic facts are as inescapable in France as they are in many other developed countries, including New Zealand, which made its first adjustments a few years ago. With varying degrees of severity, all have aging populations and problems in balancing the books. In the case of France, average life expectancy (men and women together) is now 80 years, as opposed to 66 years in 1950. The implications of this are enormous.

For the ‘revolutionaries’ presently wrecking French infrastructure, this is not a matter of economics but a matter of rights, or, in modern parlance, ‘entitlements’. It is as if the traditional distinction between political rights (freedom of speech, religion, representation, etc.) and social ‘rights’ (‘rights’ to education, housing, health care, pensions, etc.), had never been made. In the first category, we speak of what are effectively ‘free goods’, to the extent that there is no limit to the degree to which they can be offered, or utilised. In the second category, the subject is the provision of goods that are certainly not free, and whose supply is clearly limited by the capacity of the community to provide.

In fact, the real problem for France and countries like it (again, including ourselves) is how to reconcile conflicting interests and, perhaps, long-established expectations, with the capacity of the society to provide for those interests. In the case of pensions, there is the additional complication of increasing longevity (as noted above in the case of France) and the fast-growing potential of medical science to support it. These are hard decisions and they are not helped by gross simplification of the issue and the adoption of the tactics of violent coercion.

Of course, there is a particular temptation in France and it springs from a fond remembrance of the Revolution of 1789 and its echoes over the two centuries since. It needs to be resisted. The revolutionaries of 1789 were confronting an aristocratic and clerical autocracy against which their only power was numbers and determination. There were at that time no representative institutions. Notwithstanding the excesses of the ‘Terror’ that followed the events of 1789, the revolutionaries advanced the cause of democracy and political justice, not just in France but around the world.

The behaviour of the activists of 2010 will do neither of these things. Insofar as they are successful in their apparent aims, they will advance the interests of public servants (who may retire at 75% of their previous salary) at the expense of taxpayers, generally, including at the expense of those elderly persons who are not former members of the privileged group. They will also further subvert the democratic process in France and, incidentally, provide further opportunity for anarchists and hooligans to do their thing.

Regrettably, revolution and revolutionary behaviour have had a much better press than they have deserved. Revolution, apart from the French example (which is mixed), has generally had baleful consequences for the people upon whom it has been imposed, the most obvious of which has been the total loss of any control by the people of any power over their lives. This is exemplified by the awful history of the Soviet Union and the sorry state of Cuba, fifty years on. The same applies to revolutionary attempts; ‘direct action’, as it has sometimes been called.

As Winston Churchill famously observed, democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried. We need to beware the fallacy of perfectionism, which applies not only to our form of government but to the quality of decisions we might expect from it and nowhere does this apply more than in dealing with the problem of aging populations with particular expectations, in the context of acute financial difficulties. Making a just decision here will require a careful balancing of interests and needs. It will not be helped by burning a petrol station, smashing shop windows, or attacking the police.

2 comments:

Brian said...

Comment.

Ron Smith opens up the age old theme that advocating a new social policy and gaining political power with such a policy; without thinking of its repercussions and possible additions in the future, is a recipe for disaster.

After World War 11 Britain embarked on one of the most radical policies since the repeal of the Corn Laws and the social reforms of the Dickens era. Initially most people were carried away with the humane aspect of the Health Reforms and Nationalisation. The costs of this change were ignored by the then Labour Government despite Britain’s indebtness, and consequent loss of its colonies, and more importantly at the expense of its industries.

Now we see David Cameron and Cabinet involved in a similar change round, which no doubt at the next election, will see the Conservative Party consigned to history due of the pain inflicted on so many people. Economically any other policy is doomed, but this will matter little when the Opposition promises a relief!

We have already seen the glimmerings of such a change round here in New Zealand, although somewhat more moderate and consequently less effective. The present “teachers” strike is a start by hostile unionism against the establishment. Behind it is a more subtle motive by the Teachers who have been against the new National Standards Policy; and its “threat” to expose poor teachers and schools.

As Ron Smith indicates we have all been lulled into the expectation that Government will support us with our right to “entitlements”, from the cradle to the grave. Those who designed the original idea of a national social welfare policy, never envisaged that such a broad scheme would evolve, or even that the costs would escalate to such a degree.

In France the riots over a paltry increase from 60 to 62 is an affront to the left whose Gallic temperament comes to the fore in a burst of idealism, unhampered by such mundane policies like economic conditions, and balancing the books.

The Revolution of 1789 was born in the salons some 30 years before, stirred on by Diderot, the writings of Voltaire, and the paintings of David. It was European mankind reaching out for something which has always been just beyond its grasp, and still is. It ended, if indeed it ever ended in the Napoleonic adventure, which has plagued French thinking to this day.

A classic case of idealism coming to grief, when the founders of that revolution resorted to a communal sadism or pogrom.

It is obvious that this lingering “recession” will be fertile ground for left wing parties to push their policies; and regretfully world wide the larger picture and economy will be shadowed over by nationalistic issues and by more promises of a utopia if you vote for us!

Brian

Anonymous said...

NZ SUPER A UNIVERSAL ENTITLEMENT (not a benefit) FOR ALL NEW ZEALANDERS REACHING 65 YEARS OF AGE NOT ASSET OR INCOME TESTED????????????? REALLY??????? A TAX FUNDED STATE PENSION NON CONTRIBUTORY BUT COMPULSORY VIA TAXATION AS WE ALL HAVE TO PAY OUR TAXES WHETHER WE LIKE IT OR NOT SO COMPULSORY TAXATION FROM ALL CITIZENS TO FUND THEIR RETIREMENT INCOME VIA DIRECT TAXATION AND INDIRECT TAXES (GST ETC)....BUT WAIT....THERE IS MORE.......UNFORTUNATELY FOR MIGRANTS WHO MAY HAVE SOME savings or EVEN KIWIS who may have some savings from their overseas ventures ARE UNFORTUNATELY SUBJECTED TO ASSET AND INCOME TESTING ON THEIR NZ SUPER???? social security act 1964 takes care of that look at Section 70 - the secret agenda to SCAM ALL PEOPLE WHO COME TO NZ TO WORK and pay taxes and even kiwis who come back to NZ.
see WWW.NZPENSIONPROTEST.COM
WWW.NZPENSIONABUSE.ORG
WWW.APNZ.ORG.NZ