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Bridge Michigan
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Young people? Blow up the political system, for your own good

In my last column I wrote about why I would likely not vote in the upcoming election. Some readers took me to task for discouraging voters from fulfilling a basic democratic duty. Readers seemed particularly concerned that I was deterring young voters, who already vote at comparatively low rates.

My article, however, was largely aimed at two targets: the scale and complexity of the modern nation-state, and the moribund nature of our current party structures. To bring nuance to my previous argument, then, I would strongly encourage young voters to blow up our current party system.

Why? Because contemporary politics shafts younger Americans. Indeed, for all its supposed glorification of youth, America is in many ways engaged in a war against young people; in some cases literally, as in its ill-advised foreign military ventures, and in other cases metaphorically, as in its domestic policy programs.

What makes this “war” different from others is the fact that the victims don’t realize it’s being waged against them, although there are faint glimmerings of a growing awareness as the labor markets and financial markets begin their inevitable contractions.

Wealth is the most important factor in representation, and the wealth disparities between elderly Americans and young working Americans could hardly be more unfair. Elderly households have an average net worth 46 times the size of workers under the age of 35, more than double what it was just nine years ago and five times what it was 25 years ago.

Since 2010, Social Security has been paying out more than it is taking in, a shortfall that is only going to get worse, potentially adding up over the next 75 years to an inflation-adjusted number more than eight times the size of the current budget. Social Security taxes will have to increase by more than 50 percent to cover the growing deficits.

The primary function of political parties is to nominate and elect candidates, and as shifting coalitions they will always tailor themselves to groups that vote. When faced with a new entry into the political marketplace, or when an already existing group begins to change its allegiances in response to events (think white southerners in the 1960’s), parties will move to capture these votes, if those votes are of significant enough strength to alter elections. Given that their wealthier grandparents are a larger group in real numbers, and vote at about twice the rate, it will be enormously difficult for young people to make inroads through the current party system.

In a complex society such as ours, whose government is largely a managerial bureaucracy, politics is largely about satisfying demands of clients. Public democracy as governed through representative institutions has waned in America and been replaced by “interest-group” liberalism that exercises control over the public sphere through influencing bureaucratic management.

James Madison, in Federalist Paper No. 10, offered the conflict of different self-promoting interests as a justification for a more centralized government. Madison believed that expanding the number of interests would result in a kind of mutual negation, no one interest able to dominate the collective force of contrary impulses. But this structure only works if all interests are equally organized and active. A well-organized and well-heeled particular interest could come to dominate policy if the natural opposition was not so.

This is why 50 percent of federal funding goes to the 13 percent of the population over 65. There is no American Association of Young Persons, and even if there were they would not be likely to have the billion dollars-plus in assets held by their counterparts in the AARP.

Every year we delay changes to unsustainable entitlement programs both increases the associated costs, most of which will be absorbed by those now entering the labor market, and increases the likelihood of systemic collapse with its attendant violence.

In the meantime, we might appeal to the consciences of those in my and my parents’ generation. "Sacrifice for your children" and "leave a place better than you found it" are two pretty solid principles. Unfortunately, given the scale of senior entitlements no one person is likely to see their sacrifices as making any difference and thus will have little incentive to make any. But reality will have its due in the form of punitively high payroll taxes, at which point young workers will make themselves heard.

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