THE BLOG
01/11/2013 03:27 pm ET Updated Mar 13, 2013

Fiscal Cliffs, Depardieu and Us

So did 2012 end with a bang or a whimper? America avoided the Fiscal Cliff, but only through a very-temporary, very-limited political deal. Greece remained a part of the European Union, if only by name. And Asia continued to fret about whether modernization and economic growth will last as fewer babies are born and able to enter the 21st century workforce.

It may seem like a lot of action, but perhaps it isn't. Looking ahead at the new year, we are left with the untenable, unsustainable and unfathomable debt build-up that is due, in large measure, to age-related subsidies built on notions of work, need and retirement more fit for 1913 than 2013.

So, perhaps, it should not have been too surprising to discover that, on that train from Paris to Amboise during the holiday, I had received a 25% discount because of my "senior" age. At 61, I officially qualify for the European welfare state. For the next three decades of my life, I could be officially dependent in Hollande's France.

Gerard Depardieu, it seems, is un-amused by this social and fiscal anachronism. Foregoing baguettes and tree-lined boulevards for the ice of the Kremlin, Depardieu's exile has become blatantly symbolic.

The only way the French government -- as well as others around Europe, from Greece to Germany to Scandinavia -- can afford to give me that 25% discount merely because of my age is to tax. And as Depardieu's departure to the other side of the old Iron Curtain signifies, this tax rate will prove to be unbearably high. And it's no coincidence Depardieu didn't come to the U.S. The American "fiscal cliff" is the product of our unwillingness to re-imagine the bottomless hole upon which our own age-dependent entitlement system is based. The recent exposure of the U.S.'s Social Security system is a case in point.

It's one of the pleasures of travel that the seemingly disconnected come together. On that train through the beautiful French countryside, Depardieu's exile and my "senior" discount seemed like two sides of the same coin. It would be a great hope for 2013 that these small and large things might be connected for some political progress -- progress that connects economic growth to the truly profound demographic shift of our time. Now that we are living into our 90's as a matter of course, surely, it's time to re-think and re-negotiate the social contract between citizens and government. And it's time to re-imagine how we "get old."

As we find new, healthier ways to age, the connection between dependency and maturity are disappearing. This prompts us to re-think how we fund the aging. In what may seem a paradoxical conclusion, it is in fact the only way to preserve the public funds for those who truly need support.