The Politics of Age (the Young vs. the Old)

Link post

Few days ago I’ve read an ar­ti­cle in the lo­cal news­pa­per about Switzer­land con­sid­er­ing to lower the vot­ing age to 16.

The rea­son I found it in­ter­est­ing was that it was not one of the old tired poli­ti­cal dis­cus­sions sup­ported by the same old tired ar­gu­ments that you typ­i­cally en­counter. In fact, it’s a ques­tion that I have never thought of be­fore.

Ap­par­ently, the dis­cus­sion was trig­gered by the re­cent school strike for cli­mate that went quite big in Switzer­land. I’ve at­tended the demon­stra­tion in Zurich and it was not only big, it was re­ally a kids’ event. You could spot a grown-up here and there but they were pretty rare. (Btw, I think this move­ment is worth watch­ing. Here, for the first time, I see a co­or­di­na­tion on truly global level. It spans be­y­ong west­ern coun­tries, with events be­ing hosted in Asia, Pa­cific Is­lands, South Amer­ica or Africa.)

Any­way, the main ar­gu­ment for low­er­ing the vot­ing age is to counter-bal­ance the grey­ing of the elec­torate.

Once again, this stems from what the cli­mate stik­ers say: “The poli­ti­ci­ans who de­cide on these is­sues will be dead by the time the shit hits the fan. It will be us who’ll have to deal with it. We should have a say in the mat­ter.”

But the ques­tion is broader: As the de­mo­graph­ics change, with the birth rates drop­ping at crazy speed (China’s pop­u­la­tion will start shrink­ing not that far in the fu­ture; Sub-sa­haran far­til­ity rates had plum­meted from 6.8 in 1970′s to 4.85 in 2015), the age pyra­mid is go­ing to look less like a pyra­mid and more like a column or even a fun­nel. In such a case the old will hold a much larger amount of poli­ti­cal power than they do to­day.

While that may seem like a minor thing (ev­ery­one is young at some point and old later on) just con­sider how it would af­fect the poli­tics of, say, pen­sions or health-care.

Or, for that mat­ter, I hear that Brexit wouldn’t hap­pen is 16- and 17-year olds were al­lowed to vote.

More ques­tions:

With old peo­ple be­ing gen­er­ally more con­ser­va­tive are we go­ing to see slow­ing or even re­ver­sal of the seem­ingly in­stop­pable move to the poli­ti­cal left that was go­ing on for decades?

With high per­centage of young males be­ing of­ten blamed for so­cial un­rest and wars, is the chang­ing shape of the age pyra­mid go­ing to re­sult in even more poli­ti­cal sta­bil­ity? And how is giv­ing teenagers a vote go­ing to af­fect that?

I have no an­swers but the topic is definitely worth think­ing about.

(Btw, the vot­ing age was low­ered to 16 in can­ton Glarus in 2007, so there’s more than a decade of data to analyse the im­pact of the mea­sure.)

March 24th, 2019

by mar­tin_sustrik