Entrenchment in France when largesse becomes a birthright

October 20th, 2010

There’s a situation in France now. The President wants to raise the retirement age from 60-62. Unsurprisingly, the French protestors take to the street to protest. What is interesting about this protest, is that the unions views a retirement pension not as government benefit or largesse, but rather as a right that is part of their culture. From the AP:

For Gilly and many other Frenchmen and women, social benefits such as long vacations, state-subsidized health care and early retirement are more than just luxuries: They’re seen as a birthright — an essential part of the identity of today’s France.

The protest against a government plan to raise the retirement age to 62 has special meaning for five members of the Eric Gilly clan who are demonstrating in the streets of Marseille.

“We want to stop working at 60 because it’s something our parents, our grandparents and even our great-grandparents fought for,” says Gilly, 50, a union representative at Saint-Pierre Cemetery, the largest in this bustling Mediterranean port city.

“Unionism, it’s in the skin,” Gilly said in an interview with Associated Press Television News. “It’s more than a passion. When something is wrong or things aren’t right, they have to be changed.”

This is a perfect example of a legal concept known as entrenchment. These governments benefits have become so engrained in the national culture that they no longer represent a form of largesse, but have become a matter of right. This argument harkens back to Williem Reich’s seminal law review article, The New Property.

For the French protestors, they no longer see a retirement pension as a privilege. Rather, they see it as a constitutional (lowercase c) right, that cannot be taken away from them.