“We need to work more,” French President Emmanuel Macron said in his New Year’s Eve address to the country, “to pass on to our children a fair and durable social model.”
Within days of his address, Macron was introducing legislation in the National Assembly to raise the retirement age from sixty-two to sixty-four, a centerpiece of his reelection campaign and a long-sought-after goal of his presidency.
Macron ran for president as a young, non-ideological pragmatist who would dislodge France from its political and economic stasis, but his presidency has been yet another joyless experiment in autocratic neoliberalism. A self-styled moderate, Macron has proven adept at occupying the space left vacant between the country’s moribund center-left and center-right parties. Meanwhile, the Far Left and Far Right remain too fractious to mount any significant challenge to his agenda.
His reform of France’s pension system is only the most recent example. Macron insists that the age hike is necessary to preserve France’s pension system, widely celebrated as “solidarity between the generations.” As with the U.S. social-security system, workers contribute payroll taxes, and retirees withdraw their pensions. Overwhelmingly popular, the French public pension system is considered a cornerstone of France’s social contract and an essential part of its national identity.
But even its staunchest defenders acknowledge that the system will soon run a deficit as France’s population ages and the ratio of workers to retirees decreases. Without changes, the country projects only 1.2 taxpaying workers to support each retiree in 2070, down from 1.7 in 2020. Similar challenges are vexing the rest of Western Europe and the United States. Further complicating the arithmetic are two factors: France’s qualifying age for a state pension is the lowest among Europe’s leading economies, while the amount it spends to support the system (nearly 14 percent of its GDP) is the third highest in Europe, behind only Italy and Greece.