Age-Weighted Voting?

The young will experience the effects of policies passed today for the greatest length of time but this is not reflected in their voting power. Put differently, the time-horizon of (self-interested) older voters is short so perhaps this biases the political system towards short time-horizon policies such as deficit spending or kicking the can down the road on global warming. Philosopher William MacAskill offers an alternative, age-weighted voting.

…one way of extending political time horizons and increasing is to age-weight votes. The idea is that younger people would get more heavily weighted votes than older people, very roughly in proportion with life expectancy. A natural first pass system (though I think it could be improved upon) would be:

  • 18–27yr olds: 6x voting weight
  • 28–37yr olds: 5x voting weight
  • 38–47yr olds: 4x voting weight
  • 48–57yr olds: 3x voting weight
  • 58–67yr olds: 2x voting weight
  • 68+yr olds: 1x voting weight

Note that, even with such heavy weights as these, the (effective) median voter age (in the US) would go from 55 to 40. (H/T Zach Groff for these numbers). Assuming that the median voter theorem approximately captures political dynamics of voting, weighting by (approximate) life-expectancy would therefore lengthen political horizons somewhat, but wouldn’t result in young people having all the power.

… In this scenario, all citizens get equal voting weight, it’s just that this voting power is unequally distributed throughout someone’s life.

MacAskill asks the right questions:

  • Do younger people actually have more future-oriented views?
  • Does extending political horizons by 20 years provide benefits from the perspective of much longer timescales?
  • Are younger people less well-informed, and so apt to make worse decisions?
  • Is this just a way of pushing particular (left-wing) political views?
  • What would actually happen if this were put in place, and how good or bad would those effects be?
  • What’s the best mechanism for implementing age-weighting voting?
  • What would be the best plan for making age-weighting voting happen in the real world?

See the whole thing for some brief suggestions on answers.

I don’t have a major objection to the proposal, I just don’t think it would improve politics very much. Rational ignorance means that voters don’t know much and rational irrationality means that they don’t care to know more. The problem is collective decision making per se rather than the time-horizon of the non-existent median voter. Still the space of possible governance designs is far larger than the space that we have investigated, let alone used, so I applaud exploration in the design space.


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