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The Younger You Are the More Your Vote Should Count

2017 December 10
by Ian Welsh

In most countries the young vote less than the old (though if someone champions them, as Corbyn did, their voting rates soar).

But the young are the very people with the most stake in how society is run. If you’ve got 60 years ahead of you, well, it matters that society is well run for those sixty years. If you’ve got ten, burn the house down to keep it warm.

This is related to the death bet:

The death bet is a bet that the cost of something will come after you die, while the benefits will occur while you are alive.

The classic death bet is climate change. If you’re old, well, most of the costs won’t hit while you’re still alive, but the costs of making change now would hit you now, so forget climate change.

A related bet was (and is, in many places) the long bull market in houses; housing prices rising faster than wages. This is obviously unsustainable, young people needing to take on more debt or being straight up unable to buy houses is obviously bad, but if you get in on the housing price rises, well, it’s all gravy for you.

So, the housing boom (and the stock market boom) are artifacts of the 80s. That’s when they take off in a sustained fashion. If you are GI Generation, Silent, or a Boomer this looks like a win to you. You get the property house rises, you sell for a lot more than you bought for, then you go to the South so that brown people can wipe your bum during your retirement.

There will be a cost in the future, but not for you. You win the death bet.

Worked for the GI Generation, worked for the Silents, and has worked for the first half of the Boom and some Xers.

A disaster for the Millennials, a lot of Xers and the next generation (whatever they’ll be called).

Death bet. I get the benefits and die before the costs come due. It’s the social equivalent of getting cancer, being told you’ll be dead for sure in two years, borrowing every cent you can and going wild.

So. Young people live with the consequences of decisions a lot longer than old people. They have a longer horizon. And they are hit by the leading edge of change from which old people are often insulated. If you bought your house when prices were low, high housing prices are almost entirely a good thing for you. If you were there for stock boom and had money to invest, all good. If you got the tax cuts of the neoliberal era, you got to spend that, and because the infrastructure was built with a time horizon of decades, most of it isn’t going to fall down on you.

Oh, old people can be wiser. They have seen more, and can have perspective. But they’ve learned the lessons of the past and what worked then, not what works now.

And the idea that they’ll do what is right because they care about their kids has been proven wrong over the last 40 years. Silents, GIs, and Boomers all knew about climate change (I’m old, I know it was widely known) and did nothing. They knew about housing prices, and that it would hurt their kids, and did nothing, except, sometimes, try and protect their kids at the cost of everyone else’s kids (I’m rich, I can buy my kid a house, who gives a fuck about anyone else).

Inter-generational altruism turns out to be pretty weak, especially once the kids leave. It was stronger in the past because the kids lived near or with the parents, worked in the same businesses, knew the same people, or plowed the same land or land close by.

Parents’ self interest required the kids do well at one time, but it mostly doesn’t now, and it turns out parents aren’t that altruistic.

Neither are kids, as best I can tell.

About 12 years ago my mother had cancer. She was due to die, so I flew out and sat with her for the last two weeks of her life, for which she was entirely bedridden, and she couldn’t talk for most of it.

My mother lived in British Columbia and they had a program where they’d put a caregiver in the house of terminally ill patients. So while I was there there was also a caregiver (mostly two, very kind young women). A nurse also visited twice.

The stories they told. According to them, I was very rare. Almost no one spent the last days with their parents. What they were used to was, instead, the kids coming in and taking the parents’ possessions before the parents were even dead.

Now I don’t claim to be a great son, I could have done more and didn’t, and I sure wasn’t the greatest to my Dad (because I didn’t like him). I would say I did the minimum.

The minimum is now unusual. Most kids are worse.

We mythologize families, but a lot, perhaps most parents, don’t actually do what is right for the adult kids, and their adult kids sure as hell don’t do what is right for their parents. (Yes, you are an exception. I was half an exception. But the palliative nurses saw many many families.)

We’ve created a society where incentives don’t line up to protect the future in a thousand ways (quarterly earnings calls, cashing out stocks, etc…) We’ve destroyed the fabric of extended intergenerational families, and we’re destroying what remains of the social safety net, while gutting basic research (the seed corn of technological progress).

Nor do we have much social feeling. We might, sometimes, take care of our own kids, but the kids of people we don’t know? Fuck’em.

So, perhaps one thing we can do is simply note that people who have to live with the consequences of decisions longer should have more say in the decisions. Start with a vote worth 1 at age 18, and discount it with generic actuarial tables going forward. How much longer does an average person at that age still have to live? What percentage is that compared to what an 18 year old has to live. Multiply. That’s your vote.

(Note that I am not young; this is not a suggestion motivated by self-interest.)

In truth, I offer this more as a thought piece than a serious suggestion (though it wouldn’t bother me if implemented, either).

But why not do it? The middle-aged to old have almost all the power in our society anyway. Look at all the old CEOs and senators and so on running around.

Of course, it might mean the end of pensions. But maybe pensions should be replaced by a universal welfare benefit, which everyone gets, anyway. Pensions are a pretty stupid way to do what they do in rich societies which would benefit from less activity, not more. (That’s a whole other article, but…)

So, should young people have more of a vote than old people? Can parents be trusted to vote in a way which protects their own kids futures, let alone the futures of other people’s kids? Are kids selfish bastards too? Is our society a pathological mess?


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33 Responses
  1. December 10, 2017

    Parents are among the forces that have basically kept segregation alive in the USA. The beliefs that spread easily among parents have led to the vast expansion of middle-class suburbia. They’re not overall a force for good and probably the opposite.

  2. Richard McGee permalink
    December 10, 2017

    The effects you describe are quite real. Still, I maintain (against all experience) that solidarity is any decent society’s highest virtue. No we can’t make people good. We can’t make people care. But we should be reluctant to divide people along racial, gender, generational, or other arbitrary lines.

    A belief in solidarity with our fellow humans should incline us to promote programs that lessen fear of privation as the prime motivation of individual action. Unconditional Universal Basic Income, Universal Health Care, and free tuition are not just nice freebies; it’s a lot easier to be kind to others when your own survival doesn’t depend on screwing them.

  3. December 10, 2017

    I think this is 100% perfect and I’m going to post it to my mother’s Facebook page. She is an exception to every rule you enumerated (or tries to be); she was raised in an old-timey, clan-based, village-structured culture, and is much more forgiving and understanding and humane than nearly every other parent in her age cohort that I’ve ever been exposed to. She’s still kind of mad at me for failing to become a lawyer, though.

    I also think that one of the most egregious flaws in our culture is the veneration of competition and “achievement.” Everything bad about America — every specific, repulsive magnification of universal human flaws, from the suburbs to police brutality to rape culture — is attributable to our worship of commercial spending and success. (In my opinion.) Most Americans see soldiers as community support, somehow, but not someone who quits their job to take care of an ailing relative. Weird af. That’s why I’m proud of annoying people who build tiny houses and earthships and go “off-grid” and otherwise make spectacles of their non-consumption. They’re obnoxious, but they’re trying.

    And I do wish all welfare spending could be collapsed into a single universal benefit that went to everyone (proportionally). Do you know how much bureaucratic waste would be resolved that way?

    Anyway, great post.

  4. December 10, 2017

    When I was 38 my father, age 72, developed cancer. He asked if I could come out and be with him for the surgery. I did and stayed with him for the three months that it took for him to pass away, barring two quick trips back to Atlanta to tend to the heavy machinery installation business which I owned.

    Turned out the trips were not quite enough. A couple of projects went bad without me, and a year later the business folded. No regrets. That was almost sixty years ago and I did what the oldest son did in those days. I considered it a duty, and welcomed it. They were, actually, a very good three months and I treasure them deeply.

  5. December 10, 2017

    Sorry, it was 1982, so 35 years ago.

  6. Robert Mcneilly permalink
    December 10, 2017

    Maybe everyone on the planet should get to vote for the US President since we affect everyone on earth.

  7. nihil obstet permalink
    December 10, 2017

    It makes logical sense for the young to think in longer terms than the old, but I don’t think they do so. Everybody is influenced by the broader culture. Our culture rewards short-term benefits and promotes the optimism necessary for someone to think, “I’ll have my beach house now, and sell it before the sea rise submerges the lot.” Don’t worry, be happy.

    And the young suffer from the belief that what they experience now is the way things have always been. House prices always rise faster than inflation. A college degree always guarantees you a good job. People are always happier living in the suburbs with a car. The reason that today’s Millennials seem to be breaking with these beliefs is that they personally have already experienced failure with them right now. The generations that came of age during the neoliberal times of Reagan and after did not think long-term about their own retirement. Now, as an impoverished old age stares them in the face, they’re thinking about it.

    I think Richard McGee has it right. Solidarity.

  8. December 10, 2017

    When I was, oh, six years old in the early fifties, I used to vote 22 times: my parents, grandparents, and all my aunts and uncles voted in my interest. Today my nieces and nephews don’t even live in the same country, much less the same county.

    I blame the internal combustion engine. Kids today have been crankshafted.

  9. Charlie permalink
    December 10, 2017

    This idea could work, however, it wouldn’t for elections. A 3x vote for Hillary? We would be a nuclear cinderbox at this time.

    Now, for a third legislative branch where randomly chosen people could vote on new laws, budgets, or regulations after being tested on the issues at hand? Yep, that could certainly work, and possibly create a faster resolution of some problems we have.

  10. Dan Lynch permalink
    December 10, 2017

    “Is our society a pathological mess?” In the U.S., yes. Perhaps things are not so bad in Canada?
    .
    Last month I flew across the country to spend a week with my 82 year old mother. It was not a pleasure trip, I don’t like my mother, I don’t enjoy that part of the country, but I felt obligated. I’m the oldest son, I have that sense of responsibility. Plus, it’s what I would want if I were 82 years old. But as Ian put it, I did the bare minimum.
    .
    Which is what I feel that my parents have done for me.

  11. Willy permalink
    December 10, 2017

    A series of tests would be given to determine the ‘strength’ of the vote. If a young warrior can bring down a buffalo with one arrow, he gets 3 votes. A useful young squaw gets 2, as well as one vote for each of her children. An old but wise squaw gets 1. An ignorant teenager gets half a vote. The chief gets 5, since he’s supposed to have seen it all and be thinking about the future of the tribe. The medicine man doesn’t get a vote, since his job was supposed to be determining who was possessed by evil spirits, but has been found to be using that power to scapegoat people he doesn’t like instead.

  12. highrpm permalink
    December 10, 2017

    @mandos,
    The beliefs that spread easily among parents have led to the vast expansion of middle-class suburbia. They’re not overall a force for good and probably the opposite. are boomer parents the source of these beliefs or the ready recipents? i’d say the later. hollyworld sets the framework of society values. always has. the pervasive pictures of the smiling young family in the front yard of their newly purchased suburbia bungalow with the 2 young children at their knees and the 56 oldsmobile parked in the driveway. ah, the overwhelming power of the imaginings to open the wallets of unsuspecting whities to make dumb shit decisions. and then along came easy rider to help trash the values of the next generation.

  13. Peter permalink
    December 11, 2017

    @HR

    The suburban movement began well befort TV and Hollywood propaganda were widespread. War vets with GI Bill education wanted something better than dirty, polluted, congested and crime filled cities for their new families. Buying homes that cost about the same as renting and had a little green grass were attractive. Work may have been in or near the city but they got to leave the city mess beind every night and visit the cultural attractions when they wanted to. Home ownership was and still is the only way most people can build wealth for their later years.

    When population growth took off in the ’70 adding 100 million new people to our population by today there was only one place to house most of the new people, in the suburbs. Most of the cities are full except for some of the rust belt economic disaster zones.

  14. Ronald Wilkinson permalink
    December 11, 2017

    No shit! I’m 67 and that’s what I do, vote for my kid’s and grandkid’s future. I don’t like their prospects these days and it pisses me off.

  15. Dan permalink
    December 11, 2017

    Oh yes, the “parent demographic” — that’s who keeps the good old confederate cause alive. Let’s get rid of the breeders! Then everyone’s vote is equal and all problems will be solved. Now I see why you keep this nihilistic old misanthrope “Mandos” around — for comic relief!

  16. someofparts permalink
    December 11, 2017

    In my former neighborhood back in the 70s people had to create their own credit union so they could buy houses in-town because local banks red-lined the area. Banks were only willing to offer mortgages for suburban housing.

    In a hilarious turn of events I have just this year been gentrified right the fuck out of that now charming urban neighborhood. Of course those 70s credit union hippies were just as guilty of displacing locals of their day.

  17. December 11, 2017

    Not all of us don’t give a fuck what happens to the planet and the quality of life upon it! You clearly do and so do I. Though that said we don’t all come to the same conclusions about what to do despite our superior experience.

    Voters can’t elect good politicians. They can only vote out bad ones. I suspect the problem has more to do with getting good people to enter politics.

  18. realitychecker permalink
    December 11, 2017

    The young don’t have enough experience yet to have decent perspective. That’s why some oldsters will always be needed to help guide our leadership.

    Human nature changes much more slowly (if at all) than technology has. Ridiculous to think that anyone can steer a flawless course after such an astounding wave of changes.

    Even if they canplay a great video game or text while they drive or post endlessly on social media./s

  19. Herman permalink
    December 11, 2017

    I tend to agree with nihil obstet that everyone is afflicted with short-term thinking. Not only does the culture promote it but to some degree it makes perfect sense. Your average person knows that individually they have little power to influence policy so what good does is do them to be deeply concerned with politics, especially with issues that seem far off like climate change? For many people politics is a waste of time and a source of aggravation. So when election time comes they vote for the party that promises to lower their taxes no matter what impact it has on the economy as a whole or the party that satisfies some tribal instinct. That is, if they even vote at all. I am not saying that I agree with this way of thinking but lately I have come to understand why people think this way.

    I don’t know if the young are any different when it comes to this type of thinking. Many young people don’t care about politics because they are too busy developing a social and work life. Should older people be punished for caring more about politics when so many young people couldn’t even be bothered to vote at all? Also will young people be more altruistic or will they be just as selfish as the elderly? Recent studies have shown that empathy has actually declined among younger Americans. I just don’t share all of the positive thinking about how the young will save us. We heard this about the Baby Boomers and the Age of Aquarius and look how that turned out. Millennials and Generation Z are not going to be any better than previous generations.

  20. Peter permalink
    December 11, 2017

    I can believe that some people might make this death bet especially those who have not done well, have no children and nothing to pass down. I think that most people who have a connection with the future want their and other peoples children to do well.

    Trying to brand older people as death betters because they don’t submit to the CAGW alarmism agenda is too clever by half. Most of the skeptics I read have the education, training and wisdom to understand this scientific and political conflict and they are worried about the future of their and other peoples children.

    The globalists at the Club of Rome and their neo-Malthusian alarmists are not too concerned about the future of much of the world’s people. They talked freely, in their early days, about eliminating a few billion of what they described as useless eaters. They describe war, famine,starvation and general disruption as positive forces useful in creating the fear and anger that will push people to demand their Stalinist world government.

  21. Ché Pasa permalink
    December 11, 2017

    Used to be “one person, one vote” but those days are long past.

    Nowadays, active voter suppression keeps many would-be voters away from the polls, or if they manage to vote provisionally, their votes aren’t counted; 40% or more eligible voters choose to stay away; candidates for office typically echo the interests of their big ticket funders, not those of their constituents; young people tend to be cynical at best about our anachronistic and deeply compromised electoral systems; and so on.

    Let a thousand flowers bloom.

    Maybe we’ll find a way out of our dilemma.

  22. Willy permalink
    December 11, 2017

    Since most legislation favors large donors, regardless of the strength of votes one way or the other, lets just make it official and give them all the votes.

  23. Arthur permalink
    December 11, 2017

    Ian, interesting what you said about your mother as I had a very similar experience with an elderly relative. The last seven years of my aunt’s life were spent in a very nice (as these things go) senior condo on the north side of Chicago. I, my wonderful wife, or a cousin would go up a few times a week to help out with shopping, doctor’s appointments, or just to visit. Though she was in her nineties she was very independent until the last year ( she passed away in June). She had live in help, but one of us three was up there just about very day. I don’t say this to pat myself on the back; we did what we had to do. What I found interesting was the response from the professionals involved. All of whom were very good at their jobs. They went out of their way to say how wonderful we were. Likewise, when I was doing some final paperwork with the senior condo the building manager was impressed with how often we visited. I was of two minds about all this. On the one hand, these folks may have just been saying what they’re required to say to surviving relatives. But if they were sincere it gave me pause, because if were the gold standard, if you will, what are the other residents getting.

    I don’t believe we did anything out of the ordinary. And, truth be told, there were more than a few times when I wished I were doing something else. But, apparently, what we did was more than most of the others. I felt, and still do, that was a very sad commentary.

    Anyway, just my two cents. Take care.

  24. December 11, 2017

    Peepee is up – Ian on off the people who were tagged:

    https://symbalitics.blogspot.com/2017/12/peepee-poopoo-and-universe-of-battle-ii.html

  25. December 11, 2017

    So you believe in discrimination by age? Okay. Any other types of discrimination? How about by the amount of tax one pays? Or better yet the amount of tax one avoids. Maybe by gender?

    How about prisoners. Should they be allowed to vote? In a parliamentary system how does that work? What riding do they vote in? I thought residency was a cornerstone of voting?

    So you are a Canadian Citizen and you have lived for the past 30 years not in Canada. Should you be able to vote? Where? For mayor as well? How about alderman?

  26. Willy permalink
    December 11, 2017

    It’s always an honor to receive a visit from Americas favorite steak sauce. And with so many questions!

  27. Peter permalink
    December 12, 2017

    @A1

    This fantasy agitprop isn’t about empowering young voters but using young useful idiots to elect old commies who would further the Warmer/NWO agenda. This is a response to the failure of Corbyn or even Sanders to gain positions of power to move the agenda forward.

    The idea of one vote being more valuable than another is undemocratic and this type of agitprop seems more about spreading division, fear and even hatred than building solidarity. This is the primary tool used by the CoR from their inception to spread fear and ceate an enemy for the UI’s to oppose.

    They started with the Malthusian, Limits of Growth and then the Population Bomb but both of those frightening memes crashed and burned while civilization responded to their challenges and prosperity spread. Then along came CAGW which the CoR adopted as their primary tool saying they didn’t care if it was true or not it fit their enemy and fear agenda perfectly.

    I can imagine the CoR’s dismay that a populist president has stripped away much of their advances toward a NWO and this reality is expanding. They conditioned a whole generation with CAGW alarmism but it wasn’t enough to make everyone simple-minded true believers. All they can do now is try to create more division and hatred.

  28. December 12, 2017

    The “debate” on climate change is over. I have often suggested a twenty-first century variation of Pascal’s Wager: If I am wrong, if the climate is not changing, the world not warming to in-habitability in my grand-childrens’ and sooner than I care to think great-grandchildren’s generation, I don’t lose a bloody damned thing.  If you, the denier, are wrong, we all lose… our grand-children and great-grandchildren lose, the only atmosphere we know of we can live in.

    End of the road, way of the dinosaurs… mass extinction. 

    Do you want to take that bet?

    Perhaps I can make it a bit simpler for you:

    There are two doors. Behind Door Number One is a completely sealed room, with a regular, gasoline-fueled car. Behind Door Number Two is an identical, completely sealed room, with an electric car. Both engines are running full blast.

    Pick a door to open, and enter the room and shut the door behind you. You have to stay in the room you choose for one hour. You cannot turn off the engine. You do not get a gas mask.

    Do you want to take that bet?

    If I’m wrong, I lose something but I forget what it is. And don’t give a shit. If you’re wrong, we lose the only planet we know of we can live in and all of our grandkids suffocate mean and brutishly in our flatulence.

    Do you want to take that bet?

    You’re either with us, or against us.

    It’s not a question.

  29. realitychecker permalink
    December 12, 2017

    Chill, Ten Beers!

    All the waterfront property is owned by the rich bastards, right?

    SO, when they get flooded out by the climate change, it will feel like they are losing a revolution.

    AND, when they come into our neighborhoods and try to gentrify them as their new homes, we can eat them.

    Probably the only way we can start or win a revolution with the troops we are working with.

    Winning!

    Cheers, Beers. 🙂

  30. Peter permalink
    December 12, 2017

    The latest CAGW Paris meeting ended with a whimper after producing the usual frightening predictions, hot air and the now manditory TDS. They did manage to get pledges for $1 billion for climate related redistribution programs which was about $49 billion short of the pre-Trump projected haul. The corrupt politicos who were promised a cut of the redistribution funds left with mostly empty pockets and more empty promises.

    It seems we do have a growing crisis in food production especially grains. The addition of a little pollutant CO2 and a little warming to our atmosphere is helping to cause this horrible thing called bumper crops. The Russians are unable to move their share of this curse to market for lack of infrastructure and the rest of the world will just have to suffer from the lowest grain prices in history.

  31. December 12, 2017

    I have heard they taste just like pig, but as a lifelong Mr Natural type, not vegetarian just real careful about not taking drugs and chemicals and hormones and who knows whatever kind of other shit they take into their bodies into mine, I figure it’d be like eating whatever it is they serve at Colonel Sanders.

    Those gates swing both ways.

  32. abby permalink
    December 17, 2017

    here is an interesting article on the topic (if you can ignore the obnoxious graphics):

    http://highline.huffingtonpost.com/articles/en/poor-millennials/

  33. cripes permalink
    December 19, 2017

    Ian is pounding the Boomer nail in again.

    The majority will not be having their bums wiped by little brown people in tropical hideaways. Most are looking at Ecuador and Bulgaria because they are trying to escape an old age in poverty.

    “An estimated 41% of households aged 55-64 have no retirement savings at all.”

    I’m pretty sure the majority of the rest won’t be living the life of Reilly, either.

    A secure and sufficient Social Security retirement would benefit all the generations, even the loathsome Boomers and deserving Millenials.

    A slogan I can get behind.

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