Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Should Children Vote? (Or Who Cares about the Future?)

With the election now 14 days away, the political promises are now piling up at least thigh deep. Each presidential candidate has promised new funding commitments and tax cuts. These tax cuts are promised at the same time the federal government is already running huge budget deficits. The current budget deficits are financed by issuing debt that must be repaid with interest. The current political promises—regardless of which presidential candidate is elected—will add to our national debt.

It is unrealistic to write off these political promises as simply the political silly season, and hope that politicians will regain their grip on economic reality after the November 4th election. Since about 1980 during the neoliberal era of smaller government, lower taxes, and unrestrained federal spending the federal budget has remained persistently out of balance except for a brief period in the late 1990s. In this decade we have initiated two wars financed entirely on credit. Now with the economic meltdown an unfathomable $700 billion of credit has just been allocated to restore credit market liquidity. This adds to our borrowing from our future. Add global warming to this balance sheet and most people agree that our current lifestyles are not sustainable.

All of these political promises and program commitments involve borrowing against our country’s future. In effect we are taking from the lives of our children to support lifestyles we have neither earned nor deserve. We are increasingly living beyond our means. But spend we do. And we do this on credit.

I dare say politicians who were accountable to children would view their responsibilities to the future far differently than do today’s politicians. Forget the political blather about commitment to children and their futures—deeds are what counts. And it is their record of economic and environmental misdeeds that requires political correction.

So I propose that children get to vote in elections, and that their votes count equally with those of adults who have supported the current political and economic irresponsibility. That vote franchise should be exercised through their custodial parents. It is parents who have the most visceral commitment to their children’s futures. So in a family of two parents and three children there would be five votes cast in elections. Each parent would cast their own vote, then together they would cast three more votes for those who they felt best addressed the needs and futures of their children.

An office-seeking political candidate would now have to pander to the children’s vote, exercised through their parents. Since children will outlive their parents and their elected representatives, politicians would be expected to look much farther into the future that they have done for the last 28 years. Greater attention to economic and environmental issues should result than what we have witnessed during the last 28 years of mismanagement and irresponsibility.


At 2:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

[Don't know if this was posted so I'm sending this.]

This idea was proposed in an episode of West Wing. My initial reaction to giving children a vote was to dismiss it out of hand.

However, the arguments for increasing the franchise are credible. Children are certainly affected by public policy.

Children who have a vote to be exercised by their parents, with the child's input, even before they turn 18, may learn to be more engaged in civic duties and may be more likely to vote as adults


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