Since the plan to reform the pension system is once again about to be presented to Parliament, we have been showered with statistics. Unstoppable mathematical reasoning, accounting arguments demonstrate the necessity and the urgency of the reform. To oppose it, strikes and demonstrations of course, but also life stories and individual testimonies came to feed the plea for the camp hostile to the postponement of the legal retirement age. Some argue for an effort of intergenerational solidarity; the others are screaming that their backs are literally full of it.
Two opposing positions, two languages too. And, as in a tragedy, Antigone is right, but Creon is not wrong. The pension system in France must be reformed – there is no doubt about it. First because he has become an indecipherable monster for anyone. Then, because the fall in the French birth rate is an undeniable fact and because, consequently, the weight of pensions will indeed be borne by a smaller number of workers.
The Longevity Argument
But there is also the argument of longevity which makes this reform possible and necessary. It is there, it seems to me, that we leave the domain of unstoppable reasoning. The very notion of life expectancy warns us of this. Hope, no offense to demographers, remains a feeling. It is linked to confidence in the future, to the value we place on it. The testimonies collected from those who contest the postponement of the retirement age reveal a gulf between the definition of life expectancy of statisticians and economists, who see in it an average number of years between birth and death, and the perception of it by the French opposed to the reform.
These describe the exhaustion of the body and the spirit, the lumbar pains, the lassitude, the brutalization of the soul, the odious routine, the degraded working conditions, the lack of consideration, the despised experience, the digital skills they weren’t able to acquire, the humiliation of losing their job long before they reached retirement age. They also talk about what they aspire to: travelling, seeing their grandchildren, cultivating their gardens, rediscovering their personal passions put aside during the years of so-called “active” life and which seem to have been confiscated from their lives altogether. In retirement, they hope to finally live. And it is from this hope of living that we would like to take a little more?
The most stubborn inequality
The case is all the less likely to be settled by arithmetic as we are constantly made aware that we are living through a period of great uncertainty. One cannot at the same time overwhelm public opinion with all the reasons to be afraid, amplify the threats, exploit its fears and at the same time wish to convince it of the legitimacy of a mathematical projection, conveniently abstract, of a elusive reality. The deficit of the pension system would reach, we are told, 13 billion in 2031. How can we know if we will not be engaged by then in a European war, victims of a pandemic as devastating as the Covid, annihilated by a tornado? climate revenge? And besides, given the state of disrepair of the health system, will we still have hospitals for our old age?
I hear, in the reluctance of the opponents of the reform, the echo of Corneille’s verse: Life is a small thing, and the little you have left of it / Not worth buying it at such a fatal price. The quantitative argument of the longevity of the French on which the postponement of the legal retirement age is based seems fragile. The most persistent inequality is that which separates those who have the means to appropriate the time of an entire life and those who have no choice but to be dispossessed of it.
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