This morning I read an interesting article on OZY titled “Don’t Let Old People Vote!” I won’t go into great detail, but it did raise an interesting question for me: Whose world is it anyway?
One of my independent opponents, Rick Tyler, longs for a return to the way the U.S. was in the 1950s and 1960s, when white Christian Conservatives were in control. Tyler is extreme, certainly, but parts of his attitude are reflected in many older Americans. Opposition to gay marriage and equality, environmental protection, improved funding for education are all much greater among older Americans than younger, while older Americans are more likely to vote than younger Americans.
This is due at least in part due to the fact that voter registration isn’t automatic. The seventy-five-year-old who has lived in the same house for forty years hasn’t had to re-register, while the twenty-five-year-old recent college graduate likely had to re-register when moving from home to college, then when switching apartments, then when moving from college to the new job–possibly six or seven moves since turning eighteen. If the twenty-five-year-old is in Tennessee, that requires mailing in a new registration form for each move at least thirty days before an election, since there is no electronic voter registration. Thus, part of the reason for lower voter turnout among young Americans is systemic, rather than simply being voter apathy.
This is problematic, because older Americans are, effectively, voting to force younger Americans to live in the world they want, rather than in the world older Americans would like to return. Unfortunately, the world they want cannot return, because America is unlikely to return to a manufacturing economy, not due to moving jobs out of the country but due to increased automation–and that automation is only going to continue to allow workers to improve productivity, which will continue to decrease the number of workers needed. We need trade laws that protect intellectual property rights (although not to the extreme duration that the Trans-Pacific Partnership mandates), because these are areas where the U.S. still excels. Protecting the environment is also less important to older Americans, because they are unlikely to suffer the consequences. Their college wasn’t free, so why should it be for younger Americans–ignoring the fact that a college student in their day could pay for school, room, and board with a part-time job plus a full-time job in the summer? And, of course, many older Americans don’t think that racism and homophobia was really that bad–because LGBT people stayed closeted and minorities “knew their place.”
As anyone who has read more than one post on this blog knows, I’m not a normal politician. I don’t look forward to tomorrow, next week, or next year: I look ten, twenty, and fifty years into the future. I think we need to be planning an online voting infrastructure now, and it should be trivial for someone to change their address in the system. I think we need to continue to improve our environmental standards–but we need to make sure that while improving standards we don’t also increase the regulatory burden on American businesses. If we add a new reporting requirement, we need to remove an existing one. Civil rights protections need to cover any group subject to discrimination on any basis besides their ability to do a job–with appropriate accommodations, where needed–or to pay for the goods and services provided. I have said before that we need to move toward a single-payer health care system, both to allow U.S. manufacturers to compete on a level playing field internationally and to make part-time employment affordable for Americans and small businesses.
I have argued before that we need to consider raising the age for Social Security, but given current population trends, this may not be the best route. The world population growth rate is currently about half that of the 1960s–1.13% compared to 2.2%–and falling. Depending on the rate of improvement in automation, we may have to tweak the workforce by manipulating the retirement age upward or downward. If we find that we have too many workers, it may be useful to drop the retirement age to free up those slots. We may even get to the point where a universal basic income becomes viable and desirable, in the case of automation greatly reducing the need for labor. It isn’t something that we can afford today, and much more research needs to be done, but it is something that we should consider as an option later.
I don’t fear the future. I don’t think you should either–and you shouldn’t vote for anyone who does. We need to manage the world so that we don’t irreparably damage it while we are getting there, but the world can be an incredible place. We just need politicians who won’t sabotage us on our way there.
The election is in four days. Do your research, then get out and vote. Thanks for reading!