Our previous washing machine was more than two decades old when it gave up the ghost. We replaced it with a relatively high-end eco-friendly high-tech Samsung model just over three years ago. Better to pay more for a name brand and to buy the larger, fancier model, which should hold up better over the long run, we reasoned. But the machine is already kaput, just a couple of months after the warranty expired. Planned obsolescence?
We called a technician, who said it was probably the electronic card, which is not fixable. We could buy a new card, but it would cost as much as a new machine. He said the manufacturer coated the card in resin so that repairmen can’t, say, fix a loose connection—you have to replace the entire card. These machines are computers these days, the technician said. You can’t just open them up and fix what’s broken. You have to replace the whole thing.
I am doubly disgusted because it’s the vaunted environmentally friendly model. I call BS.
Yesterday afternoon, I encountered some protesters waving banners. Mostly I saw the imposing vans of the CRS, the most serious unit of law enforcement, which were parked in front of the préfecture, a preferred spot for those venting their anger at government. The protesters were outnumbered by shoppers (the biannual soldes–sales–just started) and were overwhelmingly older. A sea of gray hair. A few chants, some whistles blown. Mostly a party. Later, the cafés were full of protesters having an early apéro, in high spirits.
The protests are over a change to the French retirement system. I mentioned before that there are a bunch of special categories that allow people to retire much earlier. President Macron wants to eliminate them. He also wants to make a system of points, because unlike in the past, future workers are likely to change jobs numerous times and points would not only make calculating retirement more uniform across different types of work but also would make it easier to get credit for all time worked.
I sympathize with this. I have had 16 jobs at 14 employers (twice I was laid off and then hired back when something opened up; in once case my original job was automated out of existence). I’ve spent the last 15-ish years running my own business; before that I spent 11 years at the same employer. Prior to that, four years at one job. Before that, a couple of years at most at each place, mostly part time, two or three jobs at once. It was a preview of what many workers do today, piecing together a living from a collage of part-time jobs. I’ll get a pension only from the place I worked for 11 years. Sure, I contributed to U.S. Social Security at those other jobs, and that will help, if it still exists when I retire. And I’ll get something for my 15 years of contributions to the French system, though at the moment it stands at a grand total of €2,000….per year. At all those early jobs, either I didn’t qualify for the retirement programs because I was part-time or I didn’t stay long enough to be “vested,” under the pre-401(k) programs.So the point system would help all those people who similarly are changing jobs or working part-time and not getting credit toward retirement. But all those who had special exemptions would lose them, and no VIP ever wants to give up his right to cut to the front of the line.
There’s another angle, which I’ve only started to hear addressed in the news. The other part of pension reform requires people to work longer. The official age now is 62, with a bunch of exceptions. This age will go up progressively over time, until, for those born in 1965, it will be 64. There are more details, but that’s what the strikes are about and things keep changing, so we’ll not wade into the weeds just yet.“Âge pivot,” “régle d’or,” “bonus-malus” and points aside, the bigger issue is that it’s all fine and dandy to say that if we live longer we need to work longer…but work where? Just try to find a job after age 45. And it gets worse with age. Job postings for “senior” positions ask for advanced degrees and five to seven years of experience. Senior after five years? It seems to be code for “older workers need not apply.” Especially when nearly all job applications start with an online form. Plenty of older candidates just drop off earlier experience, but if you’ve spent a decade at a job, how do you shorten it to that five-to-seven-year window? Meanwhile, employers can simply filter for only candidates with the correct number of years of experience. That isn’t age discriminiation, is it? Nothing was said about age. It’s just an unbiased algorithm. (I hope you hear the sarcasm dripping here.)Increasingly, friends and acquaintances on both sides of the Atlantic are confiding their worries about whether they’ll be able to stay employed until they can reach retirement age. I certainly know many, many talented, hard-working people who have been laid off in recent years, in their mid-50s. These are mostly in the U.S., and the U.S. comes up often in conversations with French friends as the nightmare scenario—the older people working in Amazon warehouses because they don’t have a pension and can’t get a job anywhere else. Or the greeters at Wal-Mart.
Now there’s more talk about how to keep French workers trained or retrained, even after age 50. Clearly there will have to be a mind shift. Older workers might not be on top of the latest technology because after you’ve switched and upgraded and switched and upgraded, at a certain point you just want the damn stuff to work and not require new ways to get to the same old stuff. Older people are slower, younger ones complain, and studies show that may be the case, but they tend to have better strategies that allow them to outperform their faster and younger co-workers. Overall, productivity and reliability are more consistent in older workers.Separately, I almost literally ran into a lady yesterday while I was out jogging. She informed me she is 89 years old (immediately–it was “Bonjour! I’m 89!”). Just adorable. Tiny. Walking nice and straight. We chatted a while and I told her she was my role model–being healthy and active for a whole life. My 30-day challenge is going along bumpily. I still haven’t dared a cartwheel, and I meditated but once, but otherwise I am more or less sticking with it. Some days are better than others. I never manage to do all the things. Not yet anyway. BTW, two people gave me very similar advice about meditation: just lie still and breathe. Let the mind shut down. It will get easier over time. My first (and best) yoga teacher used to have us do this, in the “corpse” position, without all the New Age blah blah. Just quiet. It was very soothing and afterward I felt at first disoriented, being so incredibly relaxed, but then reinvigorated.
Please do share your thoughts about planned obsolescence of appliances and humans, as well as your stories about progress on your own New Year’s resolutions.