Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Intergenerational Injustice

There has been much in the news over the last couple of days about the generational rift in the Brexit vote, with 75% of 18 to 25 year olds who voted doing so for remain. An emerging narrative is that of a future destroyed by the decisions of an older generation who will not have to live through them, and also a strong sense of betrayal. The tensions between and anger across generational divides, especially within families, has been widespread. I was reminded of Hobbes’ reflections on the English Civil War and families being torn apart by the political divisions of his time. And while this example is perhaps overstated, I do wonder how defining of twenty first century politics generational divisions will become.


My throwaway comment at a family gathering at the weekend was that no one over the age of fifty should be permitted to vote. This was a fairly arbitrary figure, although it would exclude me from voting too, and was justified on the basis that the over fifties have less invested in the future. However, Brexit wasn’t my only justification for this claim. There have been no shortages of environmental writers who have argued that it is the young and future generations who will be most severely impacted by the political decisions made today.


Moreover, as Martin O’Neill has noted, “[t]he more substantive issue is whether it could be normatively justifiable for those who will be less affected by the consequences of such a huge decision to impose it on those whose interests are more extensively at stake, and who strongly favour a different outcome. Yet that is certainly what has happened.”


One can deploy some defensive hardy perennials here, such as that with greater age comes greater experience and greater wisdom (little evidence of wisdom in the Brexit campaign!); plus there is the far more common assertion that if one has paid one’s dues and taxes for the past X number of years, then one should have the full democratic right to make political decisions. Except, of course, each of these claims is problematic, subject to deconstruction and not directly or necessarily relevant to political representation.


I’m not sure how one proceeds with this. Today most of the debates about political representation that I focus on concern the ecophagic tendencies of plutocracy and the distortion of politics by capital and neoliberalism. But rulership by the old, gerontocracy, seems a pressing issue given the demographics of an aging population. I have always objected to those who project hopes and optimism on to the young and the next generation, because it has always seemed to imply that people decrease in value as they age, and also because it lets the middle aged and elderly off the hook and unfairly puts pressure on the young to sort out the problems of their parents and grandparent's generation. However, there is certainly a strong rationale – and perhaps even a hedonic/utilitarian-style argument - for those with a potentially greater investment in the future, as a future to be lived through, to have a proportionally greater say in political decisions than those who do not. The closest that I have seen to an age-based form of proportional representation was suggested by Jean Kazez yesterday. Her question and proposal was that, beyond a minimum threshold, “would it have been more fair if the Brexit vote had involved a multiplier, so the vote of a 20 year old counted for 1/20 and the vote of an 80 year old counted for 1/80?” Although she admits that this may “sound repugnant”, there is also “something sensible about age-based multipliers.” I find myself agreeing, and not particularly for Brexit reasons, but more especially for environmental ones.

4 comments:

James Whitehead said...

Presumably those not allowed to vote –over 50 (I’m one) would no longer be required to pay any Tax- ‘No taxation without Representation’. So I might go for that. Also of course no decision makers over 50, so we need a whole batch of new MPs and party leaders. Not to speak of heads of Academic institutions. Of course the figures for this vote analysis can be trusted? And the motivations for the elderly voting to leave – one of selfishness. Yet its they who will weather any storm without living through it? I think Ageism is as bad as Racism in that it makes such assumptions. Blacks should be denied the vote because as a race they are more criminally motivated – so dishonest - we have the prison figures to prove this! The Brexit vote was by old people and stupid racist white working class northerners… Most of my fiends voted Remain, they are comfortable middle class, some in London sitting on Millions- what are house prices in Bath compare to Rhyl?. Young students – who can afford fees - voted remain – again comfortable middle class… The North, South West East Anglia and Wales voted leave. Try another measure- income and lifestyle. To anyone in the South East the places above and the people living there simply don’t exist. A person from Blackpool (check the house prices) asked why they voted leave. His answer was to teach the Londoners a lesson. Did he think it would harm him, yes he did, but things he thought were so bad he didn’t care. Finally The EU remain was supported by all the multi nationals, mega corporations, Banks, political parties, the EU is a Capitalist trade monolith. You would think left wing academics would be opposed to such a Fascist regime of un elected EU commissioners in the pockets of big business. But no – they voted remain – for their kids – perhaps – their kids - or fear of living standards? But not for the kids of those regions above with no prospect of ever having much of a career or life. I’m shocked at the betrayal of the working class of all races by the intelligentsia of the South East.
Spend a week in Grimsby or Scunthorpe rather than visit the continent this summer. One final point – why are the Remains such bad losers, maybe because it’s the first time they didn’t get their own way? Well join the shipbuilders, steelworkers and miners… for a tiny few minutes…

James Whitehead said...

"would it have been more fair if the Brexit vote had involved a multiplier, so the vote of a 20 year old counted for 1/20 and the vote of an 80 year old counted for 1/80?” Although she admits that this may “sound repugnant”, there is also “something sensible about age-based multipliers.” I find myself agreeing, "

To be really fair this should be based on life expectancy- so a 20 yr old with a terminal illness should be equated with an 80 year old. Again poor people likewise don't live as long so their vote fractionally reduced. To be more fair Only people under 50 with children or expressing the promise to have them should be allowed to vote.

And we need to ignore or ban authors like James Lovelock- scientist, environmentalist - and aged 97!

Paul Reid-Bowen said...

I agree ageism is morally bad; although I’m not sure it is necessarily as bad as racism. This would depend upon how it is systematically realised. But, as you imply, ageism realised through political representation/exclusion would be bad for a number of reasons. However, I was only considering one aspect of voting that seemed to raise problems, i.e. everyone’s votes counting equally with regard to a long term future, even though they wouldn’t – i.e. because of their age – be equally impacted by that future. But, yes, every vote always impacts the long-term future, and people are always unequally impacted by votes, and life expectancy is another complication too. So, it’s not a fix. The problem is trying to conceive of fairer systems of political representation (does our current party political system of first past the post, representative democracy do it, would some form of proportional representation work better? etc).

Absolutely agree with your middle points. The demographics were clear and unsurprising. People who were doing well or OK tended to vote for the status quo: Remain. People who were struggling or suffering tended to vote for change: Leave. Moreover, people tended to vote the way they did for perfectly intelligible reasons. Personally I was ambivalent about voting Remain, perhaps most notably because it was voting for business as usual, but I had my own reasons that tipped the balance.

You ask “why are the Remains such bad losers”? Nothing too surprising here, not getting one’s own way, suffering frustration, and seemingly having one’s future blocked or damaged typically leads to anger. Had the vote gone the other way by 48/52, I think there would have been similar levels of annoyance, although I suspect the mainstream media would be declaring it a great success for democracy, rather than a shocked ‘what happened?’ Only a 70/30 or 80/20 split, in ether direction, might have defused cultural dissonance and anger.

My own frustrations were only directed towards those Brexiters who thought Brexit would benefit them economically, or even in terms of sovereignty, as I think they were mistaken and/or misled. I think we – or at least most of us (albeit not equally) – will be in a worse economic and political position in the short to mid-term future. But when one has little or seemingly nothing to lose, voting for a change (any change) is an eminently rational option. I’m only too happy to be proven wrong by history.

From my own position of deep green pessimism (not merely or simply a privilege of the academic intelligentsia), Brexit or Remain doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of difference. There are far too many ecological, economic and energy crises unfolding in the world today, and the party political shenanigans – to cite my overused analogy – amounts to little more than rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.

But, of course, even on the Titanic, not everyone was impacted or suffered equally.

James Whitehead said...

Thanks for your reply and some thought provoking comments. Regarding the morality of Racism Vs Ageism and the systematic ‘realisation’ is this so? It could be that Ageism is regarded less an evil as those who suffer are after all “old”. I can see this even in my own thinking… For that read – less human. Just as women are considered. By which I mean in the UK the murder of women is about one a week. But these being ‘domestics’ are not considered as important as racist attacks? (by the media- or state?) Maybe the very old are now treated better than once..

"Hush-a-bye baby, on the tree top,
When you grow old, your wages will stop,
When you have spent the little you made
First to the Poorhouse and then to the grave."
Anonymous verse from Yorkshire.

Harold Shipman and the continual exposés of ill treatment to elderly dementia patients?

As for the value of a voters vote- age might be significant, but no more so than intelligence- political awareness? And do the ‘young’ care more about the future than the old? From memory this was once not the case. Maybe now they do think more about pension schemes than Apps on their iphones…

Regarding the percentage – close but given ALL the experts, Big Corporations all political parties save UKIP arguing remain – not so close. (One side effect from leave is the possible demise of UKIP- certainly Farage has gone.) But what if remain entailed joining the Euro!? After all a single eurpoean currency as well as government is the EU’s aim, is it not, and those supporting it should be willing to make sacrifices to this end? I think joining the euro as a remain condition would get a 70 – 30 leave…well maybe 90 – 10… Or has this idea of United Europe been forgotten, I voted to stay in the referendum of the 70s on the prospect of a single Europe. (Apart from the promise of cheap French wine) Which raises the question of ‘the future’. Back in the 70s, a united Europe seemed to make sense in a world divided between the USA and USSR and their ‘puppet’ states. Germany was divided… I at least back then could not conceive of the collapse of the USSR, or a reunited Germany effectively running the EU show. By which I mean its from my experience (age) that the future is not so predictable as the ‘experts’ would have it… Back in 1974 a time conceivable (2016) when three of the major leaders of the world would be women! But I was a young dude back then… cue Bowie –

“…Speed jive, don't want to stay alive
When you're twenty-five…”