Friday, September 14, 2012

Holy Generation Gap, Batman

Adam Serwer tweeted this:

And it got me thinking.  It reminded me of a previous academic appointment I had where the folks who were past the normal age of retirement had heaps of sway over certain decisions.  When a certain 80+ year old colleague would weigh in on something, I would joke that it made sense since he was the future of the department.

Well, in American politics today and for years, the older folks have been key drivers since they turn out on election day and focus on issues that are important to just them--social security and medicare mostly.  This has long produced outcomes that direct not just more but most money to the senior citizens and not so much at the young folks who are the future, as the cliche goes.

Hence my tweet that is getting picked up this morning (and excuse the omitted "have" after the who):

Democracies are never very good at looking down the road, but this tendency is exaggerated when the older folks care only about themselves.  Of course, all of us are self-centered (I am a self-admitted narcissist), but the degree to which the current generation of senior citizens cares less about the future is rather astonishing.  It is not new that folks who used to vote for local school taxes when their kids were in school vote against them now that their kids have graduated.  But it does seem to be worse today.

So, the next time you hear someone say, "these kids today," there are others, including myself, thinking "these senior citizens today....."


Irfan Nooruddin said...

So older people who vote are excoriated for acting rationally, while younger people who don't bother to vote are hailed as being the future. Interesting definition of self-centered here.

Steve Saideman said...

I understand that the older people are being rational, but I long ago learned that everyone acting according to their narrow self-interests often leads to collectively bad outcomes.

All I am asking for is that senior citizens have a bit of empathy and remember that they not only gave into the system but benefited from it. The tale of folks voting against property tax increases for local schools once their kids graduate is not myth but reality.

Senior citizens will continue to live in a society populated by younger folks--the well being of the younger folks will affect the quality of senior citizen life. They should keep that in mind.

Erik Bruvold said...

Steve - are you sure about the school bond thesis? You need to be sure to control for the confound of property ownership/trajectory of housing market - as empty nesters have a continued financial interest in continuing to invest in school district if they are homeowners. Been poking around alot in that area.

Erik Bruvold said...

An interesting comparative project would look at Seniors ACROSS western democracies - to see if they universally support reverse robin hood intergenerational transfers or if there is something uniquely (i.e. Babyboomers) American in the current dynamic of yelling "keep your government hands off my medicare"

Steve Saideman said...

I don't know. I just know what I observed in several elections, but I am also fully aware of the dangers of confirmation bias. I may have just remembered a few, but not observed those where the folks with kids beyond high school still willing to pay the bucks for their local schools.
Lots of interesting social science questions to be asked, but my work is elsewhere.

The joy of a blog is I can speculate without peer review, that I don't have to read the literature and can rely on little to no evidence. I wish I could be more productive so that I could spend more time reading more widely...

Erik Bruvold said...

An accessible read (and it is actually pretty good for example of research design) is "The HomeVoter Hypothesis" by Fischel. If you read one urbanist book.......But it also is a pretty good reminder that the ruled often "vote" their narrow parochial (and dare we say "rational") self interests and that is applicable in many fields, not just urban politics.