Could Giving Kids the Vote Eliminate Inequality in the US?

Chrystia Freeland, writing for Reuters, believes that one way of addressing the growing income inequality in the United States is to give those under 18 the right to vote. Freeland isn't the first to make this radical suggestion; recently, economist Miles Corak from Canada also voiced a similar proposal saying that bringing children into the electoral process could side-step the partisan mire into which it has descended.

For the last several years Corak has been studying growing income inequality and – even more worryingly – the decline in social mobility, long held to be the cornerstone of the North American dream. The Head of President Barack Obama's Council of Economic Advisers Alan B. Krueger dubbed the phenomenon "The Gatsby Curve."

That's where the kids come in. In a policy paper published last month by Canada 2020, a Canadian progressive research group, Corak points out that the group that suffers most from declining social mobility is the young. As it happens, this is also one of the last human constituencies that doesn't have the right to vote. That relationship may not be coincidental.

"Older individuals, and those with more education working in higher-skilled occupations, are more likely to vote," Corak writes in the paper. "But, in addition, there is a broad bias by virtue of the simple fact that children are disenfranchised. Children's rights are not adequately recognized and they have a reduced political voice in setting social priorities."

The solution to ending this bias could be giving children the vote. Corak recognizes that the idea might sound untenable in the first hearing, and admits that he was of the same view when he first heard it proposed. But then he researched it and realized that the proposal has serious academic roots.

It even has a scientific name "Demeny voting" after Hungarian-American researcher Paul Demeny, who first proposed it as a solution to the European population decline.

Part of the problem, Demeny realized, was that as democratic societies aged, so did their politics. After all, the elderly had a vote, while children did not. Gray voters used that power to shift public expenditures toward themselves, sometimes funding these programs by borrowing against the earning power of the rising generation of workers. That tactic, Demeny worried, created a vicious spiral, by making the next generation concerned about whether it could afford both to have children and to fund its own retirement in a future when the state would surely have less money to spend. Enfranchising children, Demeny realized, would be a way to fix that political imbalance.

03 11, 2013
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