Some young Europeans have given up on change. They just want to leave.
May 11, 2013
One of the main benefits of forecasts based on demographics is the fact that they can be more precise and therefore more reliable than others. For example, the number of people aged 40 in the United States twenty years from now is roughly the same number of people aged 20 today, minus premature deaths plus new immigrants. A prediction that enjoys a similar inevitability is that welfare programs as currently defined will certainly be unaffordable a few years from now, given the aging of the population and concomitant rising dependency ratio.
It is a fair bet that one way or another, the current generation of young people will be unwilling and/or unable to pay for Social Security and Medicare as they presently stand. Of course, Western Europe has the same problem and President Hollande of France recently got a whiff of what is coming from an open letter addressed to him by a 20-year old student* named Clara G. and published in the magazine Le Point.
In summary, Clara does not believe it fair that she and her generation should be saddled with the enormous debt accumulated by Mr. Hollande’s generation. As a remedy, she is considering leaving France for friendlier pastures. She says she is not alone and cites a recent poll by Viavoice which found that a shocking 50% of respondents aged 18-34 answered ‘yes’ to the question “if given the opportunity, would you like to leave France to live in another country?”. Forty-five years after the upheavals of Mai 68, an important segment of the young are more interested in exile than in change.
Addressing the President directly, she writes:
“This will probably shock you, but it is mainly for fiscal reasons,… simply because I do not feel like working all my life to pay taxes, a large part of which will only service the 1.9 trillion Euros of debt that your generation has kindly left us. If these borrowings had at least been invested to prepare the future of the country, if I was getting a small benefit from them, it would not be a problem for me to help repay them. But this debt only helped your generation live above its means, and assure itself a generous social safety net which I will not have.
My labor and my taxes will also pay for your generation’s retirement which you did not bother to plan, and for all the health and support expenses incurred by the elderly who in less than twenty years will be a majority of the population. So what will be left for me to live on and to raise my children?
And, if by some improbable miracle, I managed to make a lot of money, I know already that not only will I be paying most of it in taxes, but I will also endure the general reproach of my compatriots and your personal contempt.
This is why, Mr. President, I am thinking of leaving France. And why your [government] should be less worried about the dangers of immigration and more concerned with the threats of emigration by the youth of this country. Where would I go? Perhaps to Germany, a country that you frequently disparage but which looks like a confident country. Or perhaps further, to Canada or Australia. Or to a developing country. To Africa, why not?
Yes, I want to go to a country where there is growth, where wages are rising, where being rich is not a deadly sin, a country in short where the individual and the society have confidence that tomorrow will be brighter than today.”
We wrote recently that developed nations with deteriorating demographics will have a big problem if large taxpayers decided to move away toward lower tax jurisdictions. Clara’s letter raises the possibility of an exodus by the young, which would be just as damaging.
* Some in the French media have expressed skepticism and questioned whether the letter was really written by a 20-year old student. Regardless, the content is more important than the identity of the author. And the arguments have certainly resonated with a large segment of the French population.