I often think about how our blind worship of democracy as the all-saving, all-encompassing state of perfection is a little awkward and propaganda-ish. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about rockin’ the vote and all of that good stuff, I just prefer a little realism with my tea. My favorite quote about democracy comes courtesy of Winston Churchill:
“It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”
There’s a little levity. One other great Churchill-ism that is pretty cynical even for me, but unfortunately has some shades of truth is:
“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”
Why Should Politicians Care?
Now this isn’t a blog about politics (although finance and politics inevitably go hand-in-hand, and I’ve got equally few qualifications in either field), but the recent bombardment of election coverage down in the States has me thinking about a few things from a young person’s point of view. The fundamentals of democracy and its outright rejection by young people are similar in the USA and Canada. In May, 2011, Canadian youth (aged 18-24) managed to get out a paltry 38.8% of the vote. Interestingly enough, this was considered a victory as only 37.4% decided to exercise their democratic rights in the 2008 federal election. The 24-35 demographic did notably better, scoring a 48% against the overall average of 56.5%, but I couldn’t find to what degree that was skewed towards the back end of that age group (all figures come from Elections Canada).
Something doesn’t add up here folks. I look over to the Globe and Mail the other day and notice Rob Carrick is once again fielding questions from young people who are struggling and asking, “Why doesn’t the government do _________.” Then I scroll down and see an interesting article titled “Generation Nixed: Why Canada’s Youth Are Losing Hope For the Future”. This is fairly typical of the mainstream news I consume these days, with smart people talking about how screwed us youngins all are. While this is a fresh narrative from the, “Geez young people are really dumb and lazy these days,” view that seemed to dominate headlines not long ago, it still doesn’t make a lot of sense to me how the popular perception (and the facts to back it up from what I can tell) is that young people are in some pretty deep trouble and love talking about it. In that case, you would think we would be politically motivated to help change the game a little bit, and channel our complaining enough to actually allow our collective voice to be heard.
The Squeaky Generation Get’s the Entitlement Grease
This brings us back to democracy. There aren’t too many Baby Boomers out there who don’t like democracy. Go ahead, find me someone who hates that their demographic groups gets pandered to incessantly. I’ll be upfront and say that I wouldn’t hate it, and I don’t blame the Boomer Generation for loving what democracy did for them. All I’m saying is that when your age group gets characterized as the “bulge in the snake” you’re going to do ok as far as seeing your needs addressed in our political system. If you have caught any of the USA election coverage the economy has obviously been a big factor, but right after that Medicaid, Medicare, and Obama’s new and improved “Obamacare” have gobbled up large parts of the public discourse. There’s nothing wrong with that, I’m all for everyone figuring out how to help sick people. I do think it is odd that there has been nary a peep in regards to the incredible fact that overall student loan debt numbers recently surpassed that of overall credit card loan numbers, and now is well over $1 Trillion according to Moody’s. Recent Canadian elections have sounded a similar tune. But I can’t blame the politicians on this one ladies and gents. Trust me, I blame politicians for a lot, and I have a laundry list of things they could do better (again, I bestowed these qualifications on myself), but this one is on us Generation Y/Millennials.
There seems to be an odd chicken-and-egg thing going on in regards to explaining why young peoples’ participation in democracy keeps trending downward. There is no doubting the cause and effect logic that the fewer young people that vote, the less their concerns get addressed. The less coverage and attention concerns for young people get, the more young people tune out and disengage with the entire political process. Here is the thing crew, I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but it seems to me that politicians probably aren’t going to be the ones to jumpstart this process in the other direction. I thought maybe Obama might go down that path, but sadly it seems that not even a cool, charismatic, athletic, African-American guy could generate a lot of structural change with us youth. So if politicians aren’t going to stick their necks out there and talk about youth concerns until we prove we have the capability to have their backs in the voting booth, then we have to make this happen and not waste energy blaming everyone else.
Help Them, Help Us
No one wants government to help young people more than me. I’m all about trying to promote financial literacy, and having government invest in education (albeit properly, not anything like the current setup). I think there is all kinds of neat ways the government could work to promote work/education partnerships between the public and private sectors in order to fill emerging needs in this country’s labour market. Perhaps some sort of tuition-raises-based-on-cost-of-living legislation could be looked at in order to stop crazy post-secondary administrators, and almost-as-crazy student union leaders from sending death threats to each other. Altering the tax code seems like a popular pastime these days, maybe we get a group of really smart individuals together and force them to come up with some original options for us to consider before they go back to Bay Street and make millions. HOWEVER before all that happens, we have to get politically involved. I happen to disagree with most people my age on a lot of political topics, but those differences pale in comparison to the concern I have for the current voting demographics in general. So what it really comes down to is another political quote from our generation’s Churchill:
“Vote or Die” – Sean Combs, aka Puff Daddy, aka P.Diddy aka Political Ph.D