I was reading my favorite newspaper this morning (WSJ) and came across this article, an update on the French transportation strike.
This story has also been covered in the Boston Globe, and it is pretty big news. President Macron of France is trying to overhaul the public pension system and the mobs are just going wild. I don’t think this is part of the “Yellow Vest” protests which seem to have died down, but maybe it is affiliated.
The is now the longest transit strike in French history. The second longest happened several years ago over the same issue. The strikers got their way which is why the problem has persisted and I’m sure is much worse now.
Like in the United States, France has evidently promised its public-sector employees generous retirement benefits as a way to cut out-of-pocket costs. You can pay people lower salaries if you make generous promises later, and then the politicians leave and it is someone else’s problem to deal with.
But don’t get too complacent. We also face a reckoning in this country as our unfunded pension and healthcare liabilities are in the trillions of dollars. What will probably happen is we will start paying out of pocket, and when future workers balk at having their taxes go way up to pay for promises made long ago, the politicians will try to cut benefits. They will have no choice. The retirees and their dependents will not stand for that because it is breaking a promise and then maybe we will see some of these riots here.
According to the Pioneer Institute, the Massachusetts unfunded pension liability is at $5500 per MA resident. https://pioneerinstitute.org/better_government/study-says-state-unfunded-pension-liability-rising-despite-recent-reforms-overall-strong-economy/
On a federal level, Forbes estimates unfunded liabilities of $46 trillion to $120 trillion. See https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnmauldin/2017/10/10/your-pension-is-a-lie-theres-210-trillion-of-liabilities-our-government-cant-fulfill/#1d4af0f565b1
What caught my eye about this story this morning was that this is a great reason not to try to transform our economy into a “mass transit”-based one, where everyone gives up their cars in order to use public transportation. It sounds like moving people about would be more efficient, if your home and destination happen to be near the public transit system, but it also makes us vulnerable to this problem. If we are dependent on buses and trains, then we are at the mercy of the workers who staff and repair these systems. The strike in France must be awful and eventually the government will probably cave in, otherwise maybe the economy will collapse or the sympathetic strikers will just make life unbearable. The article states that teachers and lawyers were joining in the strike.
Our MBTA system in Massachusetts is already out of control. I recall several articles long ago related to high pay and unfunded pension liabilities. These quasi-autonomous agencies just milk the public dry when it comes to taking care of their own. So perhaps our Massachusetts politicians should rethink the plan to transform our society into something based on a mini-socialist European model.
Allen Nitschelm is publisher of PublicEditorMA.com. He critiques the Boston Globe, mostly focusing on the bias in their news reporting. News articles are graded for bias, and the website has a listing of the average bias ratings for all reporters reviewed. See our website for more information and the four categories of articles we publish.
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