Wednesday, July 15, 2009

ZenTiger Emancipating Youth

Is this really about the youth vote, or about the left’s power base?
I'm vaguely aware some Labour Party "thinker" recently suggesting children get the vote, exercised via their parents. Ripples across the blogosphere - I haven't seen the source. [Found it - Labour MP Phil Twyford]

This idea could merely be a springboard for the frequently raised idea in lefty circles of lowering the voting age to say, 16. Start off with a suggestion that will not fly in order to finally compromise on the desired result.

The left would do quite well out of this change. It's gerrymandering using demographics rather than geography.

This is not isolated to New Zealand – lowering the voting age is has long been an idea pushed by the left worldwide, and has met with some success in a few countries. Then those countries are used as a justification for us to follow suit. No need to think, just follow.

We’ve been there before
It's a repeat of the 1970's and enough time has gone by to give it another go. Back in 1970, most countries had a voting age of 21. By the end of the 70's, like dominoes, it had fallen to 18 for many countries. For example: UK, Canada, Germany, Netherlands, Australia, France, Ireland, Finland, United States and Germany had all lowered the age to 18 between 1970 to 1974. New Zealand, always a leader, followed Finland in 1969 lowering it from 21 to 20, then jumped on the 18 bandwagon in ‘74.

In the last few years, the issue has come up again. Political agitation has seen the voting age drop already in some US states to 17, and a few countries have taken it down to 16. Behind this thrust, the hard left. Just about every Green Party and many socialist parties around the world are vocal advocates for lowering the voting age. This is definitely a policy of the left, and it's a world-wide effort.

Prior to this story, the last politician in New Zealand to suggest lowering the voting age to 16 was, not surprisingly, Sue Bradford in 2007 via a bill entitled "Civics Education and Voting Age Bill". Also not surprisingly, she suggested compulsory Civics Education - perhaps as a substitute for maturity. Perhaps such is the confidence in the virtues of "An Inconvenient Truth" played over and over in science class? The bill never got off the ground; the timing wasn’t quite right. It will come back.

So what's the reason to lower the voting age?
The arguments for lowering the voting age are pretty much standardised now. By that I mean if you tune into the debate in any country on this matter, the same few ideas are pushed.

I’m an adult, really!
“If you can marry, why can’t you vote?” Well actually, at 16, you need parental consent. You also need parental consent to join the army at that age, so don’t bother trying that one either. One gain is used to achieve the next. If the voting age is lowered, then it would be “we can vote at 16 - why do you we need parental consent to marry?"

A variation of the above is “If you can have sex at 16, then why not the vote?” A potential voter advances this very question in the UK:
It's legal to have sex at 16, so why aren't we allowed to vote at 16? I don't follow politics very closely, but I did follow the war and I'm interested in poverty and terrorism issues. Blair is a good prime minister, but he made a mistake over Iraq because he was under the influence of George Bush.
So the logic is that having sex outside of marriage proves you are capable of making the big decisions in life. Well, if you follow UK politics, it’s probably the same criteria Ministers use, but as a reason, it doesn’t carry the same kind of dignity and wisdom as say, the declaration of independence and the US Constitution.

How about the reason that 16 year olds are the benefactors of evolutionary forces? Quotes another youth:
As society evolves, 16-year-olds get smarter and we should have the same opportunities as adults. I don't know much about politics - is it the Conservatives who are electing a new leader at the moment? - but if I did have the vote, I'd probably vote Labour..
So you say you are smarter and want to vote, don't actually know what's going on, and would vote Labour. It fits the profile I guess, but not a good example of evolved thinking.

No, I really am an adult
If we are going to lower the voting age, the criteria is really to agree to lower the age of majority. It must surely be based on an agreement that a young adult is actually now an adult, and entitled to the benefits, whilst beholden to the responsibilities, of an adult.

The age of majority is an age when we are supposedly responsible and mature. You think 16 year olds lined up at the abortion clinic, flushed with the success of having legal sex at age 16 are in that position because they are mature? You think having a drivers license at 16 makes you mature?

Sure, some teenagers are quite mature, well educated and can articulate a valid opinion. One can argue convincingly that those that pass an arbitrary political knowledge test deserve the vote from an intellectual sense, even though that idea also violates the “one person, one vote” principle. On the whole, most teenagers have a long way to go in their maturation process. This group does well in all of the “stupid thing to do” category, from dangerous driving, binge drinking, experimentation with drugs, rebelling against parents (who, for the most part just want to keep their children safe during a difficult period) and generally thinking about experiencing life. The larger portion of this group do not think and act like adults. There's a better argument for putting the voting age back to 21 rather than lowering it to 16.

And sure, many adults also do not think and act like adults, but there comes a time when we have to say – you are on your own. Make your decisions and accept the consequences. That becomes the crux of the matter again – a push to lower the age of majority which would imply teenagers are ready to be treated as full adults rather than young adults and have to accept the consequences in equal measure: Hold them accountable for contracts; bar them from the youth courts; give them the same access to alcohol and porn as other adults and so on.

Actually, that becomes another reason advanced – if you can be tried in court for murder as an adult, then why can’t you vote? Again, it seems that the criteria is your ability to commit a serious error of judgment to prove you are an adult. People incarcerated for more than three years can’t vote anyway, so the reasoning has to be “if you know it’s wrong to commit serious crime, then you can decide which fine upstanding politician you wish to elect to parliament”. Yet, I suspect if a whole lot of youth elected the Greens to power, they wouldn’t be held accountable for their bad judgment. Hey – I’m joking! (They’d get off on the insanity plea anyway.)

The sum of these arguments have merit, and in a conceptual sense I find them quite strong. However, it presumes that all things should be made equal, for the sake of being equal. If you can vote, why restrict alcohol? If you can have sex, why restrict the vote? If you can murder and be accountable, why not vote? If you pay tax, why not vote (so why then deny the 12 year old paper boy the vote?). If you vote, why not be held accountable for contracts? If you vote, why not mandatory military service in the junior territorials?

Life isn’t a single barrier, it’s a set of stepping stones. Using one reason above to support another, only to then justify the next isn’t necessarily helping our young adults. It’s simply stacking up the reasons to take away their transition time into adulthood.

It’s really another symptom of the left’s “entitlement” philosophy. Look at the reasons given for lowering the age. There’s nothing about service, duty, responsibility and the maturity to exercise the privilege. It’s “give me the right, and give it now.”

Let’s look at this another way: Patience is a virtue. Also, things that people pay for are appreciated more than when they get them for free. So, patience waiting for the vote is the payment that gives the vote value. It is a marker for attaining the status of adulthood. There is too much pressure to make adults of 16 year olds. They are not. They are young adults – they are in transition. Accord them respect, but give them some space. Give them the time as teenagers to be teenagers and progress to adulthood.

Handing out the privileges before being given the chance to demonstrate the responsibility is too much of this “entitlement” mentality that diminishes the value of the privilege.

Some argue that kids can leave school and even leave home at age 15 or 16, so why not the vote? I suspect that kids who leave home at age 15, are probably doing so for all the wrong reasons (even if they are necessary reasons). A child from a dysfunctional family running out the door and left to survive for themselves is probably sacrificing education, working in a low paying job or living on the whim of the state. Their voting choices will be directed inwards, not outwards.

The richer the society, I think it is more likely the voting choices of the people are going to be about things bigger than themselves. Raising a family is the practice run for this attitude. It no doubt surprises many on the left that my voting choice is not about maximising my tax return, but about what I think the result will be for the country.

If you can’t vote, you can’t speak
Another argument is that the voices of young people are being ignored. They are not. Young people can still get involved in politics. For example, all parties tend to have a Youth Faction, and a Youth Minister or spokesperson. There will be some policies targeting the youth group. They know that they will be voters, and the marketing of policy starts early. The Greens organise pub crawls as part of their marketing efforts. You don’t need to actually wield a vote for parties not to see the value in listening to future voters. Already, the left put some effort into capturing the young vote. If it’s marketing alcohol, it’s to be banned, yet if it’s marketing Green policy it’s to become mandatory “civic education.”

It’s all about the money
You even get the left suggesting a right wing argument as if to entice the centrists over: that because some 16 year olds pay tax, it's a fundamental principle of democracy to give them representation. "No taxation without representation" the cry goes.

It's a somewhat flawed reason, because that particular sentiment springs from the tax imposed on the American Colonies, and a desire to get direct representation for those colonies in the English Parliament. “Virginia alone enjoyed the right to tax Virginians” - even the slaves, indentured immigrants (white slaves), women and children - all producers with no vote at the time. The criteria for voting is not solely based on if you pay tax (watch out unemployed people), it's more accurately founded in the idea "One Man, One Vote", with "man" being all people who have reached the "age of majority". If you support this reason, then you cannot use age as the barrier at all. It’s anyone with a job. We could argue that it’s anyone that pays GST.

It’s about good habits
Lowering the voting age will increase turnout and create good voting habits. This one’s a stretch. One extra election, every three years (four years in many countries) will not create a habit. Habits are things built up by regular action, regular being “more than once every three years”, unless you are a geological formation. If the habit is the goal, then you can let seven year old’s and up vote on election day, in a mock poll as they accompany their parents to the booth. Great idea, but doesn’t require lowering the voting age.

What do I really think?
I’m not as against lowering the voting age as I sound. I'm not totally against the proposition, but I'd need a lot more convincing. I probably see slightly more merit raising it as lowering it. Either way, keeping it at 18 isn’t institutional oppression.

However, there is one argument not often advanced for lowering the age, and this one appeals to me. The fact that elections are every three years mean some people will not vote until 20 or 21, not being quite 18 when an election arrives and then required to wait. Also, turnout from youth may well be low and only those really interested may vote. Those two factors mean the overall effect may not be significant. From this point of view, perhaps 17 is reasonable, as gives some people the vote closer to 18 than 21.

On the other hand, arguments about maturity and reaching the age of majority aside, lowering the vote would probably bolster the extreme left vote, and that isn’t a good thing for the country.

The left thrives with the passionate idealism youth brings, and we need a bit of that in our political discourse. We need people fighting for rain forests, campaigning against battery hens, being horrified at financial excesses of big business. It’s a gaping hole that the parties of the right tend to not articulate well, being preoccupied with the financial and authoritarian excesses of big government, of the family and work ethic being eroded, of supporting the idea that trade and reward for efforts are ingredients for the success of society.

But the left are also good at hoovering up the votes of the ignorant, of encouraging a sense of entitlement, of thinking that problems must be solved with the force of government at the expense of individual freedom. They can get a crowd enthusiastically endorsing an 80% cut in CO2 output, without realizing the actual question was “do you want to destroy your economy and lose your job for a negligible effect in the atmosphere – thanks, we now have the mandate.”

Many are chasing the youth vote for their own reasons. The debate will rise again, as it did in the 1970’s. The push will come and the arguments will seem strong. On reflection, I don’t find them compelling though, and the relentless push to lower the age doesn’t automatically turn young people into full adults. We may be giving them rights they are ultimately entitled to, but that means we continue to shrink the period in their life they have to transition from child to full member of society. What really, is the hurry?

See also: If we can have sex, why can't we vote?

Kiwiblog: Herald on Twyford

[Minor update 16 July on concluding paragraphs] And here's a post where the Greens argue weakly for lowering the voting age: Green is another word for immature

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