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.
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.