Give children the vote

Looking at the array of ignorant and vindictive old men attacking Greta Thunberg and other young climate activists, the case for lowering the voting age is just about unanswerable. Anything that could be urged in justification of stopping 16 year olds, as a group, from voting, is equally applicable to those over 60 (a group to which I belong). Over 60 voters are, on average, poorly educated (the school leaving age in Australia was 15 when they went through and I assume similar in most places), and more likely to hold a wide range of false beliefs (notably in relation to climate change).

Worse, as voters the over 60s have ceased to act, if they ever did, as wise elders seeking the best for the future. Rather (on average) they vote in a frivolous and irresponsible way, forming the support base for loudmouthed bigots and clowns like Trump, Johnson and Hanson (the last of whom, unsurprisingly, supports an increase in the voting age). Substantively, they respond to unrealistic appeals to nostalgia, wanting to Make America Great Again, and restore the glories of the British Empire, while dismissing concerns about the future. If my age cohort were to be assessed on the criteria applied to 16 year olds, we would be disenfranchised en masse.

Of course, we can’t do that kind of thing in a democracy,. That’s why we should act consistently with the core democratic principle that those affected by a decision should have a say in making it, unless they are absolutely disqualified in some way. In my view, that makes an open-and-shut case for lowering the voting age to 16.

But where should we stop? If we set the bar at the level of emotional maturity and intelligence shown by say, the crowd at a Trump rally, most 12 year olds would clear it with ease.

So, how about giving everyone a vote? For young children, that would amount to giving parents an extra vote, though it’s worth noting that opponents of womens’ suffrage made the same claim about husbands. In any case, the assumption that parents would vote in their children’s interest seems much more defensible than the idea that the old, as a group, will vote unselfishly about decisions (Brexit, for example, or wartime conscription) that will have little effect on them, but drastic consequences for the young.

More importantly, the age at which young people stop doing as their parents tell them is well below 18. Allowing them to engage directly in the democratic process would be an unambiguously good thing, whether or not they chose more wisely than their elders.

38 thoughts on “Give children the vote

  1. “Ar 16 children have the right to leave home and live independently, to get a job, and to control their own money”

    But they can’t sign a contract, need to get permission from a judge to get married and are tried for crimes as minors. If they are going to get the vote, they should have all the rights and responsibilities of adults. If they are too young to have all the rights and responsibilities of adults, they are too young to vote.

  2. 16 year olds can make contracts, although there is a rule that any contract they make must be appropriate to their situation and employers and credit providers sometimes seek parental or other adult guarantors to ensure the contract is followed. Getting a job is itself making a contract. They can also have consensual sexual relations. The restriction on marrying is a specific legislative exemption from the general law.

  3. “The restriction on marrying is a specific legislative exemption from the general law.”

    Other specific legislative exemptions include the ability to buy alcohol and tobacco, and to gamble. They also are not allowed to drive or if they are it is with restrictions, such as only with an adult supervisor in the car, depending on the state. There are also restrictions on the kind of car they can drive. As for the consensual sexual relations, there are also restrictions. They can’t legally have sex with persons with whom they are in special care relationship, such as teachers. They also can’t apply for a credit card in their own name. All up, for better or worse, the law is full of examples where 16 and 17 year olds are not treated as adults.

  4. I have to correct myself. I misread your comment as applying to 18-21 year olds.

    In the US in most states it is illegal to drink alcohol under the age of 21 but the voting age is 18. Does that mean that the US voting age should be raised to 21?

    To address your specific points:

    (a) driving is nowhere a condition of the franchise and it is not immediately obvious why it should be

    (b) the prohibition on sex with carers is not age-specific and applies in other situations such as hospitals, universities, aged care homes, and the armed forces

    (c) you can apply for a debit card, a prepaid credit card, or an additional card on an existing account.

    You actually destroy your own argument. It is not enough for you to show that the law treats 16 and 17 years olds differently in different cases. You need to show specific reasons why the law should treat 16 and 17 year olds differently in respect of voting. There is no automatic principle that only adults can vote or that adulthood must begin at 18.

  5. The premise behind the proposition that 16 year olds should have the vote is that they have sufficient maturity and judgement that they should be part of this critical democratic decision making process. But the law, in many different applications, says that they are not as mature and do not have the judgement of 18+ year olds. If you’re going to give them the vote, let them go the pub, buy a beer and play the pokies.

  6. Alan, I’m sorry if I gave the impression that I thought the Social Wars, themselves, were simply about the right to vote. Rather, I meant to use them as an example of the sort of thing that comes up when there is no meaningful safety valve. Had there been participation in Roman citizenship and in like privileges (yes, it wasn’t just the right to vote they were after), it is probable that things would not have reached that pitch. Similarly, it is the need for that safety valve in our own recent history that has fuelled the franchise among us.

    J-D, if people use “democracy” that loosely in technical analysis, instead of using it as a technical term, they will encounter difficulties. On the other hand, if they are just using it casually in ordinary conversation, no charge of “inadequacy” makes sense – against them or against me.

    You then wrote:-

    You, in contrast, offered an attempt at defining ‘democracy’ which would make it synonymous with ‘government’: as lexicography, that’s a failed attempt.

    With such respect as is due, no. Democracy is rule by the people, which last we have not as yet defined – but government includes other kinds of rule as well. They can only appear equivalent to someone who is bringing that to the reading – but I was trying to show that there is more at issue here than common preconceptions and assumptions allow.

    Far from there being “my” outright failure, I was accurately pointing out some crucial aspects of this technical area. It is far from enough for viability, and it does not explore everything that democracy involves – but then, it wasn’t trying to, and you should not make out that I was offering a definition at all. I was exploring what democracy does not do, and even then only in enough depth for present purposes. You are not entitled to shift the ground of what I offered from what I offered, though you are perfectly entitled to bring out yet other things of your own if you think fit.

    John Quiggin suggested that the principle that those affected by a decision should have a say in making it is either a core democratic principle or the core democratic principle (it isn’t clear from what he wrote which of these two possibilities he intended). Therefore, his implied definition of ‘democracy’ is something like ‘a system which has at its core the principle that those affected by a decision should have a say in making it’. Whatever faults a definition along those lines might have it is, for the reasons I have just explained, a better attempt than yours: that is, it comes closer to capturing what people mean when they use the word ‘democracy’ than you do.

    Sigh. Then they are wrong to the extent that they are using it as a technical term when it won’t stand up to the rigour needed (but see above about casual usage). And you are wrong to the extent that you are making out that I was offering a definition of it at all. What I was doing, and still am doing, is holding up aspects of it for scrutiny. What he offered is something that simply isn’t present in all kinds of democracy that stand up to that sort of scrutiny. It’s why eastern bloc countries could call themselves democratic republics, even though they didn’t deliver quite a few things that many would have liked. That doesn’t make them not democracies, that makes the other stuff they lacked … other stuff. And that is why it is intellectually unsound to ferry it into the definition of democracy – it will conceal all sorts of assumptions, and is the sort of thing that leads many into No True Scotsman thinking.

  7. Sigh.

    Sigh. Sigh.
    Sigh, sigh, sigh.


    Do you want to have a competition to find out which of us can out-sigh the other? I can’t figure out how there’d be any point in that.

    I considered a different response to your sigh, but our host might not like it.

    Casual conversation serves a combination of purposes: one of those purposes is communication.

    Verbal communication, both oral (including casual conversation) and written, at all levels of formality and technicality, depends on a shared understanding of the meanings of the words used. Communication is facilitated when people approach agreement on the meaning of the words they are using; the more people’s understanding of the meaning of the words they are using diverges, the more communication is hindered.

    Sometimes people use the word ‘democracy’ in casual conversation (although probably not as much as it is used in less casual contexts). Sometimes people using that word in casual conversation have very similar understandings of what it means, in which case communication is facilitated; sometimes their understandings of the meaning of the word diverges, and to the extent it does so communication is hindered.

    In your earlier comment you suggested that democracy means that ‘we rule’; now you suggest that democracy means that ‘the people rule’. ‘The people rule’ approaches much more closely than ‘we rule’ to how people typically understand the meaning of the word both in casual conversation and in technical contexts. The two definitions are not synonymous.

    ‘A say in decisions for those affected by making them’ also approaches much more closely than ‘we rule’ to how people typically understand the meaning of the word both in casual conversation and technical contexts.

    If you disagree with me about how people typically use the word ‘democracy’ in attempts to communicate, then I suggest you attempt to use the word to communicate and observe what happens. My conclusions are based on my own observations of the use of the word and I am unlikely to be persuaded to think otherwise by attempts to gaslight me.

    It’s why eastern bloc countries could call themselves democratic republics, even though they didn’t deliver quite a few things that many would have liked. That doesn’t make them not democracies, that makes the other stuff they lacked … other stuff.

    When the German Democratic Republic used the word ‘Democratic’ in their name, and when the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea still does use the word ‘Democratic’ in their name, the purpose was or is not to communicate, but to propagandise, obfuscate, and deceive. I don’t find it surprising that communication is not the only purpose for which words are used. Countries that weren’t (or aren’t) democratic officially described (or describe) themselves as democratic. (You might just as well suppose that the Holy Roman Empire must really have been holy because it called itself that, and that the definition of the word ‘holy’ should be adjusted accordingly.) It’s unsurprising that one general effect of lying (and of other ways that words are used for purposes other than communication) is to hinder communication: if people never lied, communication would, in general, be easier. But little is more mundane than lying.

  8. Headline cultural quality: -2 (I won’t repeat here)
    HCTECTIC Score: +10
    (Headline continues to embed crappy tropes in culture score)

    Yet – Don Dunstan would be supportive imho.

    Don Dunstan: The Visionary Politician Who Changed Australia
    By Angela Woollacott

    “As attorney-general and later as premier, Dunstan set about unravelling one of the nation’s most heavily gerrymandered electoral systems, where for decades more than two-thirds of lower house seats had been going to only a third of (mostly rural) voters. Overturning such legal chicanery was the political achievement on which all the other Dunstan reforms were built.

    His great political skill, notes Woollacott, was to turn dry debates about electoral methods into “high drama and public theatre,” seizing on the gerrymander’s more egregious outcomes to build political support for change. Under Dunstan, South Australia became “the most democratic state in Australia,” by 1975 boasting full adult suffrage, proportional representation and compulsory voting.”

  9. I was not going to say anything at all about giving children the right to vote since I do not support democracy, except in limited crimsonstances in the first place.
    But as usual I do have a suggestion that no one has yet suggested. If there is going to be an election say for the position of prosecuting attorney for a district or region a vote among the population could be held that would be much more fair than one man one vote. The even more fair way to have a vote of this kind for this position would be to give everyone over 15 but under 30 years of age two votes. Everyone over 30 but less than 65 years of age gets three votes. Everyone between 65 and 80 gets two votes. Everyone over 80 one vote and a Toblerone Bar if they can make it to the polling station before it closes.
    Once upon a time a person needed to be 21 to vote. It was widely believed that people under that age lacked the expirience to consent to give their vote to everyone. You were allowed to get screwed in the bedroom at 16,17, 0r 18 depeding on where you lived. But to get screwed in the ballot box you had to be 21. I still find that a very reasonable arguement as most people pay little attention to politcal discussions until they reach their late teen years. Therefore the votes of young people should not be given the same weight as those over 30. Also those between the ages of 30 and 65 still have a lot of life left to live so they will be very affected by any decisions made almost to the same extent as those under 30.
    But by the time a person reaches the age of 65 they have most of their life behind them. Not only that their minds are often starting to loose their flexibility. So their votes should be given less wieght be that point.
    Finally by the time people are over 80 they are clearly living on borrowed time. Why should they have much say in how the people who are going to be living when they are not around live. The votes of those over 80 should count to the least of all.
    Just as importantly balloting should not be secret. Every vote should be retracable back to the person who cast it so that its legitamcy can be certified at any time. Yes I know that people like secret ballots so that they do not have to fear repurcussions of offending powerful people if those powerful people should find out how they voted. But if a country is in that sad condition it needs to have a revolution then anyways. If a person is not prepared to cast a public ballot then they are not prepared to be a citizen let alone a member of a responsible politcal party.
    Also if people are going to vote for something other than a prosecuting attorney they should have to not only pass an examination of their knowledge they should also have to be subject to covert psychological testing to prove that their moral character qualifies them to vote because they have not been found to be delusional or dishonest as certified by a 3 person team of certified clinical psychologists.
    Say I am not making this up as I go along. These comments are based upon principles that have stood the test of time. If it were 800 BC maybe you could say that I am making this up as I go along.

  10. On the subject of political parties. A one party state suits me just fine. Why because a one party state is actually a fiction of sorts. LIfe is filled with many decisions that have to be made. Even people of simailar backgrounds or outlooks are going to have disagreements. With in a political party people still fight over agendas. I do not know what the term for these intra party teams would be called in Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Ireland , South Africa, Canada, or Jamaica or else where in the Carribean region, but where I come from they are called caucuses. In a formally one party state caucuses would still be your defacto politcal parties.
    Furthermore when the officially competeing political parties in a multiparty state have been captured by a continuing criminal enterprise that also has inflitrated the organs of government a multiparty state is not really that but a one party state with competing factions in an informal sense and competing caucuses in an official sense.
    The reason that I bring these points about politcal parties up is because I think that it is a prerequisite for thinking about who should be responsible for the training, or if you prefer the term indoctrination, or perhaps socialization, of the youth of the society to prepare them to be able to meet their social (politcal) responsibilities, and how this training (indoctrination, socialization) should be carried out.

  11. CK – “Furthermore when the officially competeing political parties in a multiparty state have been captured by a continuing criminal enterprise that also has inflitrated the organs of government a multiparty state is not really that but a one party state with competing factions in an informal sense and competing caucuses in an official sense.”

    Yep. In many contemporary multi-party states the governing party can be changed but the governing policies don’t change as needed. In a contemporary one party state the party can’t be changed but policies can be rapidly changed as needed. However, contemporary children don’t have a say on change in either case…

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