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Archive for January 19th, 2023

It is an understatement to declare that fiscal policy in France is terrible.

In recent years, France has had terrible presidents such as Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande.

But when Emmanuel Macron took over, I wondered whether he might push the nation in the right direction.

And he has pushed a few good ideas. But his achievements have been so meager that I was only half-joking when I wrote last year that his reelection meant that a socialist beat a socialist.

But maybe I’ll have to apologize for that column because Macron is pushing reforms to the country’s pay-as-you-go pension system.

In a column for CNN, David Andelman summarizes the plan and explains the motives.

…the French government announced plans to raise the official retirement age from 62 to 64 to qualify for a full pension. …The French budget risks floundering on pensions that are siphoning off nearly 14% of the nation’s GDP each year – roughly twice the drain than in the United Sates and behind only Italy and Greece in Europe. …Currently, all men and women in France can retire with full pensions at 62 – tied with Sweden and Norway for the lowest retirement age in western Europe. …there are special exemptions dating back to the time of Louis XIV. After performing on the stage for 10 years, actors of the Comédie Française…are entitled to claim a lifetime pension. This dates to the company’s creation in 1680. Dancers in the Paris Opera can retire with full pension at the age of 42, a custom that dates to 1689… Stagehands at both companies can still take their retirement at 57. Then there are train conductors who can bow out at age 52. …In all, there are at least 42 different pension schemes… “The French can count on our determination to block this unfair reform,” said Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally party, who Macron defeated in the presidential elections last April. At the other end of the spectrum, Mathilde Panot, from the far-left France Insoumise (France Unbowed) party tweeted that the plan was “archaic, unfair, brutal, cruel.”

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal opined last week in favor of Macron’s reform.

France currently has 42 different government-funded pension programs, which vary in retirement age and payout. Mr. Macron wants to wind down some of these programs and transition more French workers to a general pension scheme. That would make it easier for workers to change jobs, and it would also be a step toward a fairer pension system. This job mobility point is crucial and would benefit most workers and employers. …the French system scored a D grade, or 40.9 out of a possible 100, on financial sustainability on the Global Pension Index 2022, created by the consulting firm Mercer… The French system is a pay-as-you-go model in which current workers fund retiree pensions. Yet today there are only 1.7 workers for each retiree, compared to 3-to-1 in 1970 and headed to 1.4-to-1 by 2050. …Nothing short of French economic vitality is at stake. Mr. Macron twice won the Presidency with a vision of a more energetic, entrepreneurial France with more opportunity for young people. A more rational pension system is an essential part of the project.

The WSJ editorial is correct. Macron’s reform would give France a “more rational pension system.”

But it would not give the country a good pension system.

Macron is basically asking workers to pay more and get less. And it is true that his plan will prop up the government’s tax-and-transfer, pay-as-you-go scheme.

But that’s like patching the roof of a rotten house.

What France really needs is genuine reform so that younger workers can shift to a system of private savings. Which is something that already exists to varying degrees in other European nations such as Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands.

But don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

P.S. Back in 2010, France went through political turmoil to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62.

P.P.S. Sadly, most of the flaws of France’s government retirement system are the same as the ones that exist in the United States.

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