Successive stories in The Washington Post on March 29 point to an inescapable reality for the Old Continent.
The halcyon days of cradle-to-grave security are coming to an end. Eurosocialism is dead. What Europeans detested and snottily disparaged as Anglo-Saxon "savage capitalism" is their future. It is entering Europe in the belly of a Trojan Horse called Globalization.
"Workers in Britain Stage Mass Strike: Public Sector Disputes Pensions Rollback," ran the headline out of London.
That strike, England's largest in decades, spread to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Schools were shut, and libraries closed. Commuters were left stranded, and trash went uncollected. London's city hall was shut down, burials were postponed, ferries were brought to a standstill. The workers who raise and lower the spans on Tower Bridge walked off. The nation was partially paralyzed. But why?
"At issue," said the Post, "is a system in which many government workers can retire with full benefits at age 60 if they have completed 25 years of service. This fall, the government says, rising costs will force it to scrap the 'rule of 85' - for teaching assistants, police community support officers, school-meal workers, garbage collectors and other local government employees, forcing them to work longer before they retire."
The story out of Paris was more dramatic, even if the cause, to Americans, was more trivial.
"Huge Protests Put France to the Test: Fissures in Government Appear Over Job Law," ran the headline over a story reporting that 2.7 million had marched in Paris and other French cities to denounce a law that would let employers fire workers under 26 with less than two years on the job, should they fail to perform.
Angry and violent protests against the proposed law have gone on for a week and brought the French government to crisis.
Like the U.S. campus riots of the 1960s, the French protests appear to some of us as the Revolt of the Over-Privileged. For what these pampered young people are demanding seems to be some kind of student deferment from the Global Economy.
The striking public employees in Britain and the young in Paris are protesting something unavoidable, like middle age. For what they see slipping away is something they are never going to see again.
What is happening in Britain and France is happening across Europe: the unwinding of the social welfare state. "Are the good times really over for good?" wailed Merle Haggard, decades ago. In Europe, the answer to Merle's question is, "Yes, they are."
Since World War II, every country in Western Europe has been ruled for a time by socialists. These regimes put in place laws that ensured job security, a living wage, a shorter workweek than in the United States, generous unemployment benefits, early retirement, magnanimous pensions and state-subsidized health benefits.
To finance these maternal welfare states, European regimes take 40 percent or even 50 percent of the economy in taxes, as compared with a U.S. federal, state and local tax bite of 33 percent.
But with globalization, European companies and workers who fund these munificent benefits are finding themselves in neo-Darwinian competition for survival, not only with American, Japanese and East Europeans who work longer and harder, but Asians who work longer and harder for a fraction of their pay and few of their benefits.
European companies are being stretched and stressed, and some are breaking. The capitalist goose that laid the golden eggs for the Eurosocialists is aging, tiring and becoming ever more barren.
Having cut defense spending and consigned their security to the Americans, the European regimes, one after the other, are finding they no longer have the tax revenues rolling in to sustain the benefits they have promised right up unto death.
Moreover, thanks to Europe's abandonment of faith and family and embrace of La Dolce Vita and the culture of death, not a single European nation save Muslim Albania has a birth rate that will provide it with the children to sustain the welfare state. Arabs and Africans must come to work and take care of Europe in her dotage. The politicians of Europe promised more than the now-aging European populations can deliver.
What is coming is a time of continuous and constant cutbacks of benefits in every First World country. Public employees will have to work longer for less today and less tomorrow when they retire.
Except for those who can stay in the hunt in the Global Economy, the peoples of all Western nations will have to give up dreams of the good life and compete with the hungry young of the Second and Third Worlds. Their lives are going to be harder than their parents', and their retirements harsher.
Marching and protesting children aren't going to stop the future bearing down upon them. Because the good times are really over for good.