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Over time, as the population distribution shifts, the revenue from taxation of the working population may go up or down, and the community must decide what level of taxation and what age of retirement is required to provide adequate support for those unable to work. You can do the calculation at a given point in time or you can try to do some sort of smoothing over time.
The right's idea, as I understand it, is to move towards social Darwinism, with the aged, infirm, young, and otherwise dispossessed to be instructed to take their problems off to a place where they aren't so noticeable.
What is the question?
The problem the left faces in this regard is, in my view, the capture of the left by liberalism, as that liberal capture, which started in the early 1980's here in France and, at least as far as power is concerned, was consolidated by the end of that decade, has two side effects.
The first is, on the left, the downplaying of the role of the state as guarantor of social cohesion, as direct job creator (and thereby full employment), which has created an underclass of chronically unemployed who express themselves sometimes violently (I think it was Rosa Luxemburg who said "crime is a waste of political energy," to paraphrase). This facilitates the neo-liberal world-view on the right, further undermining the left's position in this regard. Liberalism is, strictly speaking, anti-worker, and this is seen in unemployment, to begin with (Mitterand in France was elected arguably due to economic conditions in the early '80's. He inheritted an unemployment rate which had risen to just under 6% when he took office. By the end of his second term, 14 years later, that rate had more than doubled and stayed more than double that for another half decade.)
The second is that there are, among the Social Democratic (and also, though arguably marginal, anarchic if you except NPA from this) set, a great tendancy towards defence of civil liberties, which is seen in the general public as being to the detriment of law and order, which facilitates the right's demogoguing of the issue. While the PS has attempted to redress this image in France with not unmitigated success, unfortunately the law-and-order left was essentially crushed when the PS systematically undermined the PC (a process which began well before the dismantling of "the Wall," and which is indeed ongoing).
The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet.
Older people aren't just worried about fairness, and are far less concerned about opportunity (that was in the past!) as they are about their personal security, which goes beyond their health care and pension payments. By older people I mean retirees, those portions of the French electorate (in fact the only one if memory served) who voted majoritarily for Sarkozy in 2007. They are also worried about social cohesion, expressed in terms of defence of values sometimes, other times expressed in terms of identity politics (French versus immigrants, et c.)
But are these priorities due to them being old or due to them being of the particular generation that they are? That is, will all people, on average, tend to adopt these priorities as they age, in which case a greater share of elderly people must be accounted for in terms of political strategy. Or is the fact that the elderly have these priorities an accident of history, which would imply that long-term strategy should be centered around meeting the priorities of the next generation of the electorate (since the present generation of elderly, not to put too fine a point upon it, won't be around to vote in the long run).
Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.
In their days, there was (mostly) no ethnic diversity in France; the economy was safely within the nation's border where everybody spoke French. 21st century world is a much scary place for this generation and tough guy macho rhetoric has had some success as seen with Sarko's electoral numbers in 2007.
The generation coming behind (that would be mine) is different: ex-colonies were all independent when I grew up, globalization was well underway even in the 70s and you have to be fluent in English to go anywhere (damn useful to communicate with all kind of people too). This generation is much, much less receptive to the traditional (and xenophobic/racist) right wing discourse.
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