The topic was the move by some in the French government to raise the retirement age.
One man called in suggesting that the President Nicholas Sarkozy should fire the union leaders. This caller and one other felt that the French were spoiled. They are not, as Justin Vaisee pointed out, they just have a fairer social system. And to clear something up, the retirement age is not 60 and proposed to go up to 62. For most workers, it is 65 in France and going up to 67. 60 is early retirement and few workers can afford to retire at 60.
This is not just an issue for France. It is also an issue for the United States and the guests and Diane did a strong job addressing that.
Anna wrote on Facebook that whenever there's an economic crisis, the top tier makes no sacrifice and the burden is shoved on everyone else. Diane noted that comment and asked what her guests thought of that?
Simon Johnson: [. . .] some rich and powerful people got bailed out by the tax payer, by the government, extraordinary though that may seem, that's the reality. People get this. That's why, I think, the rank and file in France are more militant than their unions. That's why you see a lot of anti-incumbency angst in the United States right now. People at the lower end of the wage distribution are being asked to take financial hits to what they care about: Social Security there -- and here, presumably in the future -- medical expenses -- in France and absolutely in the United States -- for when you're retired. And the question is: Why is this fair? Why is this reasonable? Why is this the way to do it? And people are upset. Very legitimately upset about that.
[. . .]
Diane Rehm: So, Ron Blackwell, how does that compare to what's happening to the labor force in this country?
Ron Blackwell: Well we've got the same kind of challenge with regards to joblessness. We've got 15 million people unemployed presently. And I think it's one out of every five working age men in the United States is currently not working. They're either unemployed or they're out of the labor force.
Diane Rehm: One out of every five?
Ron Blackwell: Every five. The more normal number is one out of twenty.
Diane Rehm: And in France?
Justin Vaisse: In France, unemployment is actually lower right now, 9.5 persons.
Diane Rehm: So in France, they're taking to the streets. In the United States, they're taking to the ballot boxes.
Ron Blackwell: Well that's absolutely right. But you know, we have very different traditions -- politically and in terms of the way our politics work and the way our labor movements are institutionalized. You'll remember that President George W. Bush -- before the recession, before the crisis, tried to privatize Social Security. He was stopped. He couldn't do it. And we know right now that our government is considering reforms to Social Security, the president's commission is considering these reforms to Social Security. Do you believe they're considering that in order to figure out the best way to raise the benefits for retirees? I don't. And, therefore, this has nothing to do with the deficit problem that we currently have in the United States but it is on the agenda of how we're going to solve the real deficit problems that we have throughout the developed world?
I'm jumping further into the conversation to note this section.
Simon Johnson: . . . and a lot of these problems, Diane, come back to reckless behaviors by the banks which has not been substantially addressed by the politicians. So we have this budget debate which you may like or not like, the politicians in, I'm afraid to say, France and the UK and the United States have not dealt with what really caused today's massive budget deficits and the increasing debt which is the financial crisis and the continued ability of these global megabanks to take on reckless risks and to destroy themselves and public financing.
So there's an example. In terms of politics, the feelings of Americans, the upset, the anger, on the left and the right was noted. The Tea Party was mentioned by one guest though not to attack them. It was a strong conversation.
This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot" for Wednesday: