Empowering Future People by Empowering the Young
G. Bognar & A. Gosseries (Eds.), Ageing Without Ageism: Conceptual Puzzles and Policy Proposals (working title) Oxford University Press (Forthcoming)
20 Pages Posted: 1 Oct 2021 Last revised: 8 Nov 2022
Date Written: May 21, 2021
A number of recent writers have argued that the obligations of modern states to people who will exist in the future may far outstrip their obligations to their present citizens, given the vast number of people who will exist in the future and whose livelihoods depend on our actions (Beckstead 2013, Greaves and MacAskill 2019, John 2020, Tarsney 2019). And yet modern states do precious little on behalf of future generations, choosing to allow and incentivize destructive practices such as the widespread burning of fossil fuels, while failing to take preventative measures that could deter global pandemics and other catastrophes.
The state is plagued with problems of political short-termism: the excessive priority given to near-term benefits at the cost of future ones (González-Ricoy and Gosseries 2016B). By the accounts of many political scientists and economists, political leaders rarely look beyond the next 2-5 years and into the problems of the next decade. There are many reasons for this, from time preference (Frederick et al 2002, Jacobs and Matthews 2012) to cognitive bias (Caney 2016, Johnson and Levin 2009, Weber 2006) to perverse re-election incentives (Arnold 1990, Binder 2006, Mayhew 1974, Tufte 1978), but all involve foregoing costly action in the short term (e.g. increasing taxes, cutting benefits, imposing regulatory burdens) that would have larger moderate- to long-run benefits. Such behavior fails not only the generations of people who are to come, but also the large number of existing citizens who still have much of their lives left to lead.
One type of mechanism for ameliorating political short-termism that receives much attention these days involves apportioning greater relative political influence to the young. As the story goes: younger citizens generally have greater additional life expectancy than older citizens, and it therefore looks reasonable to expect that they have preferences that are extended further into the future. If we apportion greater relative political influence to the young, it therefore seems that our political system as a whole will show greater concern for the future.
In light of this story, a number of particular mechanisms have been proposed for apportioning greater relative political influence to the young, including lowering the voting age (Piper 2020), weighting votes inversely with age (MacAskill 2019, Parijs 1998), disenfranchising the elderly (Parijs 1998), and instituting youth quotas in legislatures (Bidadanure 2016, MacKenzie 2016).
In what follows, I argue that merely apportioning greater political power to the young is unlikely to make states significantly less short-termist, but underexplored age-based mechanisms may be more successful. In particular, states might mitigate short-termism by employing age-based surrogacy and liability incentives mechanisms within a deliberative body of young people charged with representing the young.
Keywords: ageism, future generations, intergenerational justice, youth empowerment, age-weighting, citizens, assemblies, time preference
JEL Classification: H11, K30
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation