Commentary: Will America Heed the Warnings from Europe?
Throughout Europe, the younger populace is making the painful realization that they are shouldering the burden of the older generation’s state-subsidized lifestyle. Rightfully so, their anger is burgeoning at the austere measures brought about in response to their elders’ unsustainable spending. This indignation has been documented in the New York Times by Steven Erlanger. “They sit there for years drinking coffee and chatting on the telephone and then retire at 50 with nice fat pension… as for us, the way things are going we’ll have to work until we’re 70,” exclaims a disgruntled 25 year old Greek named Aris Iordanidis.
The failure of the European socioeconomic model is now self-evident; unfortunately, it took economic collapse and the essential defaulting of Greece for everyone to realize this. While the European model may have appeared more “comfortable” than the “harsh” American system, it is now clear that the comfort enjoyed by Europeans was unsustainable and doomed from the start. Certainly, other vagaries contributed to this systemic collapse – low birthrates and longer life expectancies – but they merely hastened the inevitable. While it is too late to prevent the meltdown, European leaders are now undertaking drastic measures to restructure their societies – cutting exorbitant pensions, raising the retirement age, reducing lavish public salaries, and generally rolling back the size of the welfare state into the stratosphere.
If we don’t start taking similar measures in the United States, we are destined to follow the ruinous path of Europe. The retching and heaving self-destruction of California is a clear indicator that this unsustainable model has infiltrated America and is inching us closer to failure. Government overspending and an overreaching public sector are supplanting investment and growth. Unions are exerting undue influence over politics, demanding impossible benefits and pensions, while politicians acquiesce.
Hopefully, our representatives in government will heed the words of Jean-Claude Meunier. “For years, our political leaders acted with very little courage… Pensions represent the failure of the leaders and the failure of the system.” We are gravely close to embodying that failure, as well. Government cannot keep spending beyond its means and must learn to show strength and resolve in the face of increasing demands for higher salaries, bigger pensions, and earlier retirements.