March 1, 2007


The great generational robbery: Expensive pensions, no hope of getting on the housing ladder, and tens of thousands of pounds of debt just to go to university. Have the under-35s been mugged by the baby-boom generation that went before them? (Faisal Islam, 05 March 2007, New Statesman)

Demographics show the root of the problem. On the Office for National Statistics website there is an animation which shows age distribution in Britain. The population pyramids that once showed many young people at the bottom supporting a small number of older people at the top is being flipped on its head. The result is an older generation with a stronger political voice and politicians who target the greater voting power of that ageing group, to the detriment of the relatively voiceless young. At the time of the 2005 election, MORI calculated that the over-55s had 4.2 times the voting power of 18- to 34-year-olds. We are sliding towards a gerontocracy.

Other European countries are further down the road. The balance in favour of older voters will make Germany a gerontocracy within seven or eight years, according to the economist Hans-Werner Sinn. The signs are already there. Nuremberg is building swingless playgrounds for senior citizens in their parks and an advocacy group for older people, the Grey Panthers, nearly made it into the Berlin regional parliament in last September's elections. In response, young Germans have formed the Foundation for the Rights of Future Generations, and will this year try to get the Bundestag to change the constitution to protect those rights.

In the UK, the number of people over 40 will overtake the under-forties by 2021. By 2031, the average age of the population will climb from 39 to 44, and over-65s will constitute nearly a quarter of the population, compared to the sixth they comprise now. This is yielding a new age-related politics. Most headway has been made in the part of Britain that is ageing fastest: Scotland. The Scottish Senior Citizens Unity Party already has a presence at Holyrood and is ramping up the number of its candidates for this May's elections.

The hand of an ageing population can be seen in certain postwar changes to the British tax system. According to Martin Weale, of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, the amount of tax on wealth - such as housing, which is usually owned by older people - has fallen dramatically since the end of the war. Meanwhile, taxes on those who work (normally younger people) have risen steadily. Some pensioners are very poor. Most are not. The greatest proportion of wealthy people in Britain are over 55; 70 per cent of those worth more than half a million pounds are over 55. Wealth statistics in Britain are sketchy, partly because they are derived from data on inheritance. However, the last set of official figures showed that, on average, 55- to 69-year-olds had £109,000 in amassed assets - treble those of 25- to 39-year-olds. Over-55s are the biggest owners and traders of shares.

Surprisingly good effort foer a journal of the Left, but the demographics crisis is, of course, an effect of Europe's problem, not the cause.

And, in an exquisite touch, in the same issue of the magazine in which is correctly delineated the manner in which the majority simply votes itself the wealth of the minority, we find this review, Fear of the mob: Hatred of Democracy by Jacques Rancière (Rebecca S Bundhun, 05 March 2007, New Statesman)

The French philosopher Jacques Rancière explains that hatred of democracy is nothing new. Indeed, the word "democracy" is itself an expression of contempt that originated in ancient Greece as a reference to mob rule. According to Rancière, today, more than ever, democracy "is bound to attract the hatred of all those who are entitled to govern men by their birth, wealth, or science".

One need not hate democracy in order to recognize, as the Founders did, that it must be checked.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 1, 2007 8:07 AM

I thought we'd known that democracy had to be checked (and balanced) since Aristotle.

Posted by: Brandon at March 1, 2007 10:41 AM

I thought mob rule was anarchy, not democracy. Have these words changed meaning while I wasn't looking?

Posted by: erp at March 1, 2007 12:19 PM

Voice Over: This is a frightened city. Over these houses, over these streets hangs a pall of fear. Fear of a new kind of violence which is terrorizing the city. Yes, gangs of old ladies attacking defenceless fit young men.

First Young Man: Well they come up to you, like, and push you - shove you off the pavement, like. There's usually four or five of them.

Second Young Man: Yeah, this used to be a nice neighbourhood before the old ladies started moving in.

Cinema Manager: Yes, well of course they come here for the two o'clock matinee, all the old bags out in there, especially if it's something like 'The Sound of Music'. We get seats ripped up, hearing aids broken, all that sort of thing.

Posted by: Gideon at March 1, 2007 12:31 PM


I heard Chaqlmers Johnson on NPR the other day discussing his book, "Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic". Have you read it?

Posted by: Dave W at March 1, 2007 1:10 PM

Life's too short to waste it on Chalmers Johnson's twisted panties.

Posted by: oj at March 1, 2007 4:10 PM

The demos is a mob. In anarchy it's every guy for himself.

Posted by: oj at March 1, 2007 4:12 PM