A friend of mine used to like to say: “The New York Times is the voice of the enlightened bourgeoisie.” This article conjures up that phrase. It rings with contempt for anyone who must sell their time and talent for money in order to survive, which is just about all of us . . . except a very, very “enlightened” few.
After a mere 30 years on a job, the New York Times wants to know, how dare a person plan to retire? Musicians, hairdressers, broadcasters, coal miners, bomb disposal experts (occupations named in the article by way of illustration) — the enlightened voice sounds aghast — just who do these people think they are, to plan to retire . . . and to retire with health benefits too?
The main point of the article is to scoff at the idea that 14% of Greek workers are eligible for early retirement — “at age 50 for women and 55 for men” — and to applaud the idea of raising the retirement age, as Germany has done and Spain, France, and now Greece are considering.
The culprits they identify, besides the workers themselves of course, are those who led “out-of-control state spending.” Those “weak governments” who so foolishly promised the undeserving a humane retirement system in exchange for votes must now be punished. As the Greek people deserve to work themselves to death instead of retire, according to the New York Times, so the Greek government deserves its political crisis.
Turning then to the United States, the paper finds “the situation” here to be “different but also painful.” Now the most important subtext of this “Business” article emerges: it is time to face the music — Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security must be cut. It also paints a target on public employee pensions in the United States. “Some combination of higher taxes, benefit reductions or an increase in the retirement age” must be forced in the United States, it tells us.
But the enlightened bourgeoisie is in principle cosmopolitan. Worldwide, the New York Times suggests, “excessive pension and health payments to the elderly” simply must go. Now that the financial crisis has decimated the value of pension funds, there is no alternative — except to proclaim “Payback Time” and insist that we forfeit the pensions and health benefits that we so obviously never deserved in the first place.
Pensions have enhanced corporate profits as well as the stability of governments. Pensions benefit the boss by reducing the costs of employee turnover. Pensions benefit the boss because they represent foregone wages today, in exchange for a future promise. And let’s not forget that the costs of pensions have been pushed, progressively, onto employees. Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid still remain thanks to millions upon millions of people who joined in social struggle over many decades. Even so, these programs, too, have been weakened down to little more than a failing safety net. Yet the enlightened bourgeoisie is gearing up, psyching up, for an assault upon these so-called “entitlements” — and this article is another little signal of that preparation.
So here we come face to face with a call for class warfare — from above. Trade unionists and activists for social justice and peace should take note. We have every reason to be in the streets. Payback time — indeed.
Andrew D. Coates, MD is a member of Physicians for a National Health Program.