With low growth, low birthrates and longer life expectancies, Europe can no longer afford its comfortable lifestyle, at least not without a period of austerity and significant changes. The countries are trying to reassure investors by cutting salaries, raising legal retirement ages, increasing work hours and reducing health benefits and pensions…

In Athens, Aris Iordanidis, 25, an economics graduate working in a bookstore, resents paying high taxes to finance Greece’s bloated state sector and its employees. “They sit there for years drinking coffee and chatting on the telephone and then retire at 50 with nice fat pensions,” he said. “As for us, the way things are going we’ll have to work until we’re 70.”

In Rome, Aldo Cimaglia is 52 and teaches photography, and he is deeply pessimistic about his pension. “It’s going to go belly-up because no one will be around to fill the pension coffers,” he said. “It’s not just me; this country has no future.”

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The business community and a growing portion of the public now understand the dynamics that discriminate against the private sector. Public unions organize voting campaigns for politicians who, on election, repay their benefactors by approving salaries and benefits for the public sector, irrespective of whether they are sustainable. And what is happening in California is happening in slower motion in the rest of the country. It’s no doubt one of the reasons the Pew Research Center this year reported that support for labor unions generally has plummeted “amid growing public skepticism about unions’ power and purpose.”…

City government was developed to serve its citizens. Today the citizenry is working in large part to serve the government. It is always hard to shrink government spending. It is particularly difficult when public-sector unions have such a unique lever of pressure.

We have to escape this cycle or it will crush us.

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At a time when the unemployment rate stands at 9.9 percent, when jobs are still being lost, when worries about the global economy are causing breathtaking volatility on Wall Street, when millions of Americans who still have jobs are worrying more than ever about the safety of their retirement savings — at a time when all that is going on, the Obama White House has turned itself into a showcase of glitzy extravagance…

In the early 1980s, many critics in the press took First Lady Nancy Reagan to task for her fashionable clothes and gatherings — for “exercising her opulent tastes in an economy that is inflicting hardship on so many,” in the words of a 1981 New York Times article. While it’s true that at any given time, critics of any administration can claim that the First Couple is insensitive to this or that hardship Americans are enduring, the fact is, at this particular moment, Americans are enduring lots of hardships, and lots of anxieties to go with them. Is transforming the White House into a glam nightclub the best message for Barack and Michelle Obama to send to a suffering and nervous nation?