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

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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

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