Rod Dreher

Don’t feel too sorry for Greece in its financial agony. Get a load of this:

ATHENS — Vasia Veremi may be only 28, but as a hairdresser in Athens, she is keenly aware that, under a current law that treats her job as hazardous to her health, she has the right to retire with a full pension at age 50.
“I use a hundred different chemicals every day — dyes, ammonia, you name it,” she said. “You think there’s no risk in that?”
“People should be able to retire at a decent age,” Ms. Veremi added. “We are not made to live 150 years.”
Perhaps not, but it is still difficult to explain to outsiders why the Greek government has identified at least 580 job categories deemed to be hazardous enough to merit retiring early — at age 50 for women and 55 for men.
Greece’s patchwork system of early retirement has contributed to the out-of-control state spending that has led to Europe’s sovereign debt crisis. Its pension promises will grow sharply in coming years, and investors can see the country has not set aside enough to cover those costs, making it harder for Greece to borrow at a reasonable rate.
As a consequence of decades of bargains struck between strong unions and weak governments, Greece has promised early retirement to about 700,000 employees, or 14 percent of its work force, giving it an average retirement age of 61, one of the lowest in Europe.
The law includes dangerous jobs like coal mining and bomb disposal. But it also covers radio and television presenters, who are thought to be at risk from the bacteria on their microphones, and musicians playing wind instruments, who must contend with gastric reflux as they puff and blow.

Unbelievable. I’m always up for a good jeremiad against rotten bankers, but tell me, did Goldman Sachs make the Greek government and its people sign up for such crackpottery? As the NYT article makes plain, though, Greece might be a worst offender, but there are a lot of governments in Europe facing the same problem — and in the U.S. as well.
Over at New Geography, they’re talking about “deconstruction” as the coming thing. When cities and states can’t pay their bills, they’ll have no choice but to dismantle themselves and their unaffordable structures. Robert J. Cristiano writes at NG that California may be the first state to have to deconstruct its vast government because it’s broke, but it won’t be the last because “the Pew Center for the States reported that state governments have more than a trillion dollars in unfunded pension obligations.” Cristiano goes on to cite Detroit as an example of what happens when a modern city deconstructs itself under duress.
I think most of us expect that after this rough patch we’re in now ends, we’ll be back to business as usual. Yet how can this be, given the tsunami of Medicare and Social Security promises the federal government has made, which will start coming due in a big way this decade, and which it cannot possibly meet? Many of us may soon see a Great Deconstruction playing out in our own states and cities over the next two or three decades, as we reconcile ourselves with fiscal reality and the cost of our own reckless borrowing and spending.

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus