Is America next?

French riots over retirement pensions could be window to our future
Fists of demonstrators are seen next to an effigy of French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Protesters are trying to prevent the French parliament from approving a bill that would raise the retirement age from 60 to 62.

Protesters have taken to the streets in several Western European countries now to decry government belt-tightening -- with parts of tourist-filled France now paralyzed.

In France, they're protesting a rise in the retirement age from 60 to 62.

It'd be easy to sit back and chuckle at the thought -- considering that our retirement age is already 67 for many workers.

But the point is the extent of dependence on government -- and what happens when the money just isn't there to make good on government's promises. In France, decades of nanny-state benefits have citizens believing anything is possible -- that continuing the good times is just a matter of political will, rather than essential reality.

In the United Kingdom, things are much more calm, but no less urgent: The government is cutting up to 500,000 jobs in an effort to deal with a $250 billion deficit.

Consider that America's deficit is $1.4 trillion.

When will we start dealing with it? When people are in the streets, a la France?

This country's problem is exacerbated by unions and their soon-to-be notoriously over-budget pensions. Some believe that, conveniently after the Nov. 2 election, the news will finally hit that union pension funds are in huge trouble, and that there will be pressure for taxpayer bailouts of troubled union pension funds.

What happens if taxpayers or their elected officials balk at the notion?

What happens if conservatives capture the governorship of California, a state that is headed over a cliff financially? Will residents go along with austerity measures? Will lawmakers? Or will they, too, seek a bailout from Washington?

And if that bailout isn't forthcoming, will we see rioting in American streets?

The simple truth is, austerity is coming: Current levels of federal spending -- a record $1.4 trillion deficit, adding to $13 trillion in debt -- are not sustainable. The federal government has essentially bankrupted America, and is continuing to spend money we don't have and print new money that devalues the dollars we do have.

The question is, will we deal with it honestly and peacefully -- and in time to avert a full-blown, take-to-the-streets crisis? Or will we carry on like spoiled toddlers, denying reality, defying the laws of economics and expecting manna from heaven as if we're entitled to an endless supply of other people's money?

Are we so much better than the French? Is our system, anymore?

Or are we and our system following the same path as our friends in Western Europe?

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