Guy Sorman--my favorite French intellectual (oh admit it, you have one too)--writes in today's WSJ on France's Perpetual Revolution:
The rationale behind this reform—an aging population—can be understood by all the French. Longer life expectancy and slow economic growth offer no other choice to save the public pension funds from bankruptcy. Why then such a violent reaction from the street?
The leftist unions that have started the strikes represent the public sector, a quarter of the active population. For them, any change in the pension-fund regulations is but a first breach in the welfare state. The French left sees how the Scandinavian, German and British governments are cutting spending in the name of sound finance and stronger growth.
The French unions fear that France will follow. Since they represent the public sector, they are not that interested in reviving the market economy. Moreover, the welfare state is perceived by the French left as a historical conquest on the road to socialism, which remains the ultimate goal. Knowing who the unions represent allows us to understand their choice for violence over negotiations: France is not a northern European, pragmatic country.
America is not on the verge of becoming another France any more than we're on the verge of becoming another Greece as some have claimed. But the attempts at modest pension reforms in France and the violent responses they have elicited are a warning and a useful reminder to Americans about how difficult it is to even slightly roll back the scope and scale of government once its in place.