American Gerontocracy

By K. David Du

Nationsmith writer K. David Du analyzes interesting age trends amongst the world’s political elites and their countries’ population median and the sharper differences between the emerging world and the industrialized one. He then ponders why we keep the oldest generation in power while the world is swiftly passing them by.

(Source: The Economist, August 2012)

According to the Economist, there is a sharp difference between the ages of those who govern and those who are govern between the industrialized world and the emerging one.

For example, in Germany, an industrialized country, the age gap between the governing elite and median age of the population is about seven years (44 v. 51), whereas in India, one of the world’s most important emerging economies, the age gap is a staggering forty years (25 v. 65).

In our own country, which is part of the industrialized world (being part of the OECD – the developed nations club), our statistics are more in line with the emerging world: the gap between those who govern is roughly about 23 years (37 v. 60).

As an American, these statistics are interesting.

In the current discourse about economics within this country, we’ve often talked about the gaps between the rich and the poor and other demographical gaps such as age, sex, ethnicity, and marital status, but we often seem to omit conversation concerning the gap between the elderly age of many elected state, local, and federal government officials and the rest of the populace.

Demographically, this age gap has some serious ramifications in public policy and I wonder why is it in this country we continue to elect into government those who are severely older than the general population.

Is it really because of their political or professional experiences we elect them; systematic failures of our political system (such as lack of term limits for some elected officials or gerrymandering) that rigs elections; or do Americans genuinely believe people in their 60s, 70s, and 80s can efficiently run government?

It’s actually because their turnout is higher than all other elective demographic groups.

The ramifications of this disparity and their effect on public policy are already well documented at the state, local, and federal level.

At the Federal level, while many people would like to see reform on Medicare and Social Security, which accounts for 60-75% of federal non-discretionary budget, there is an open opposition by the elderly, the AARP, and interested elderly Senators and Representatives that will stonewall legislation that reforms the two entitlements, regardless of the degree in which reform takes place.

At the state and local level, many people agree it is good policy for the elderly to be barred from driving their cars along public roads and freeways due to their public safety liabilities. But due to outcry over age warfare, the elderly and their political allies continue to hinder fair safety statues.  If the state and local government can bar or penalize a certain group of people due to their risks to public safety, such as drunk drivers or people who drive and use their smartphones, why can’t the same logic be use upon the elderly?

So yes, I’m a partisan that believes in curbing the power of the elderly in politics, replacing them with Generation X, creating term limits that undermines this phenomenon, and transforming how this game of politics is played within our town halls, state capitals, and Washington.

However, I’m not sure what is the right way going about this problem, perhaps the elderly are correct to believe that in this country there is generational war against them, but it isn’t a war they’re likely to lose. It’s likely our generation will continue to foot the bill for theirs.