As a follow-up to last year's How Democracy Ends lecture, David talks about how divisions between young and old are threatening representative democracy. He traces the story from Ancient Greece to Brexit and beyond, and asks how the age divide connects to the education divide in contemporary politics. Plus he offers some radical suggestions for what we might do about it.
CATHERINE: Hello, it's Catherine Carr here, producer of Talking Politics. In a moment it’s just going to be David with a follow up to the lecture we put out this time last year on how democracy ends. Today, he asked whether a few profound changes in our society could spell the end of representative democracy as we know it and he proposes some pretty radical ideas about how to save it.
DAVID: This is the short version of a very long story, the story of democracy, and it goes right back to the beginning. I am going to go back to ancient Athens to start this story but not because I want to argue that there's some continuity between then and now. The thing that I'm interested in, have been slightly obsessed with for the past few years, is what's different about now, and this is part of that argument. I want to try and show something has changed in our democracy and that's the way to make sense of the crisis we're going through.
It's a story in three parts. The beginning is the ancient world. So if you go back to Athens where democracy more or less started and where it was the system of government for about two hundred years, it had very very determined critics who said it could never work. And they said it could never work for three basic reasons—actually one reason times three. The trouble with democracy, they said, is that by definition it's always going to give power to the wrong people because in any human society there would always be more of three categories. And those three categories were, first of all, the poor—because the critics of democracy said you can't have a society where there are more rich people than poor people. Wealth is a pretty scarce resource. It's going to be hoarded by relatively few. So if you empower the citizens as a whole (and in ancient Athens we're talking about men. Lots of people were excluded—we’re talking about adult, male citizens) there will be more of them who are poor than are rich. And the thing about democracy is if there are more of you you win. That's how it works. It's a system of majority rule. So if you go for democracy you will be ruled by the poor, its critics said. Secondly, the other group of people there will always be more of in any human society is the ignorant, or we might say today the uneducated, because the other thing that's a scarce resource, certainly in the ancient world, is knowledge or information or education. Most people don't have it. So if there are more of you and you win, there will be more people who don't know much, and they will rule. And then the third group that the critics of democracy were terrified would end up ruling were the young. Because, again it was almost like a law of nature, it was assumed that in all human societies by definition there have to be more young people and old people because human beings die off at a fairly regular rate. They certainly did in the ancient world. So you couldn't have a society where there were more people in their 50s and 60s than in their 20s and 30s. This is even with wars that take out a lot of young men in their 20s. And all the evidence from Athens is that this was true. There were lots more citizens in their 20s and 30s than in their 50s or 60s. To be 60 in the ancient world was to be really old and there weren't many of you around. So it would be the poor, the ignorant, and the young who would rule.
An emblematic version of this argument is in maybe the most famous book written in the ancient world, Plato's Republic. So it was the philosophers who were saying this. Aristotle said versions of it, but Plato said the full version of it. He was worried about rule by the poor. So was Aristotle. Plato is definitely worried about rule by the ignorant. He believed that politics only really worked if he somehow found a way to give power to the people who knew what they were doing. And he thought in a democracy most people don't know what they're doing. But in the Republic, what’s interesting about it is that the one he really goes for is the young. So when he wants to come up with an image of what democracy will be like, always will end up being like this, the image he gives you is it's like a young man. He actually says, ‘If you want to know what democracy is, imagine being ruled by a young man.’ And we know what young men are like, he says, says they are fuckle, prone to violence, change their mind a lot, decide one thing in the evening and then wake up with a hangover the next day and change their mind again, drunk, liable to run into debt, easily led, volatile. That's the whole point, the thinks, democracy will be volatile because young people, young men are volatile. Also he thinks young men are exciting, wear fancy clothes, like going out a lot, it’s fun. He actually says democracy is going to be fun because young men are kind of fun. They're more fun than old men. But you wouldn't want to be ruled by them. If you want sensible, coherent rule you have to exclude these people. That was the argument against democracy. [5:42]
Now the first thing say about it is that it is clearly a biased argument. So one of the ironies of ancient democracy is that we only really have the views of the people who didn't like it. So we have to assume that there were large numbers of people who thought it was a great idea: the poor, the ignorant, and the young. It's the politics that empowers them. And it survived for 200 years in Athens no doubt because most citizens actually thought that it worked. But it's the educated elites, it's the philosophers, it's Plato's of this world who actually wrote down their views. The poor, the ignorant, and the young did not have many opportunities to leave their views behind. So what was left behind by ancient Athenian democracy was this critique of it. It's too dangerous. You mustn't do it. It will end in tears because in the end you're giving power to the wrong people. And that view held field for about 2,000 years. So after Athenian democracy failed, which it did, for more or less 2,000 years, the educated elite accepted that it was too dangerous to give power to these people. You had to have a system of government that somehow put barriers in the way of those groups taking over.
Then you get to the next stage of this story, which is somewhere towards the end of the 18th century. A new idea emerges, which is a direct refutation of the classic critique of democracy. It's a way of saying, ‘You can do democracy and you don't need to worry about what Plato worried about.’ So the name for this idea is representative democracy, or there’s an even simpler word for it, which is just elections. If you introduce holding elections into democratic politics—that is, you get people not to decide themselves on important matters but to choose the people that are going to decide for them on important matters, and have the opportunity if they don't like those decisions to replace them with other people—you can prevent democracy from being taken over by those three groups. Sometimes this was said explicitly, more often it was simply implicit, the belief was that elections would put barriers in the way of the poor, the ignorant, and the young getting power.
It is worth saying, and this is an important fundamental difference between modern democracy and ancient democracy, elections are the centerpiece of our democracy. Elections were not a big part of ancient democracy. Ancient democracy worked on two basic principles. One was direct rule or majority rule: if there were more of you, you win. And the other is what's usually called selection by lot, so random selection of people for important jobs, decision making roles. And the same anxieties apply with random selection, which is if you have a society where most people are poor or most people lack an education and you pick at random someone to take important decisions, the chances are that person will be poor or will lack education.
Elections put a barrier in the way of that because it was thought that the three things that it's really hard to get elected without are first of all money because it's expensive. So if you want to win an election, actually, if you start off poor, you have a massive disadvantage because you do not have the resources to fight. Second, to win an election, on the whole it was thought you needed an education because electioneering is standing in public and making a case and the better educated you are the better you will be at doing that even if the case that you're making is on behalf of the less well educated. And this was true at the end of the 18th century and it's true today. If you look at the politicians around the world who are championing the cause of the people who didn't go to university, Donald Trump who famously said ‘I love the less well educated,’ he's the spokesman for the non college educated classes in America, he has an economics degree from Wharton Business School. Marine Le Pen has a law degree. Orban in Hungary, the great populist bogey man of the present, people remember him as a liberal student in Budapest in the 1980s. He's a college guy. They're all college educated people. Because it's really hard to win elections, even as a populist, without an education. And then the third category that would be discriminated against deliberately by electoral politics was the young. It's really really hard to win elections as a young person. It's not completely clear why this is. Do people favor experience or is it simply that it's just much much harder to get into electoral politics if you're young? But the thought was, even a few hundred years ago, that electoral politics would be biased, heavily biased, in favor of older candidates. [10:32]
It was I think a guess or intuition to start with, as it was with the other two categories too, that if you gave poor people the vote they wouldn't elect poor people to represent them. If you gave people without an education the vote they wouldn't elect uneducated people to represent them. If you gave young people the vote they wouldn't elect young people to represent them. But if it was an intuition, it was a kind of genius intuition because it turns out to be completely true. It's almost like a law of electoral politics around the world that parliaments or legislatures, representative assemblies are massively biased in favor of the well-off, the educated, and the old.
If you look at the historical figures for age, there is a kind of golden number which is 50, 50 years old, which is the average age of almost all parliaments almost everywhere in the world throughout history. So the average age of the House of Commons, this is a rough figure, but it is roughly 50 today. Fifty years ago it was roughly 50. 100 years ago it was roughly 50. The US House of Representatives is a bit above 50. Slightly less democratic bodies it’s even higher, so in the Senate it's closer to 60. There are some places where the age has started to fall. So one of the consequences of the recent rise of populist or social movement parties, new parties that have come from nowhere and got people elected to Parliament, is that younger people are getting into parliaments, particularly in Europe. So in Italy just in the space of a few years the average age of the Italian Parliament has dropped from the mid 50s to the mid 40s. It’s 45 at the moment. And that's because the average age of Five Star representatives is around 38. It's fallen in France because of En Marche, Macron’s movement. Macron has brought young people into politics, not just as his supporters but actually as his MPs. So there are changes but they are relatively minor.
And if you look at the longer history, the one that goes back to the end of the 18th century, there is, I think, a different story, which is, over that time, to start with, there was still this deep anxiety that you couldn't let everyone vote. You couldn't let people vote without having a property qualification or possibly an education qualification or an age qualification. You couldn’t just let all 18 year old men and women vote because the fear was still that maybe they would start voting for people like them. But gradually, over those 200 plus years, what people discovered is that as you extend the franchise, it doesn't actually change the basic rule. It's not the case that when you lower the voting age you get younger MPs. It's not the case that when you let everyone vote you get MPs who are much much poorer than they used to be. It's not the case that when you let everyone vote, including people not only without a college education but maybe people with no school qualifications, that they elect people like them to parliament. It just doesn't happen. That's one of the things that gave educated elites confidence in democracy, when they discovered that you could keep extending the franchise and the basic iron law would still hold that representatives in parliament would be more like the educated elites than they were like the people they represented.
I think that story still holds even today. That's not the big change. So the third part of this story the one that brings up to date, the one I'm interested in, is the final change, which is not a change in who represents us. It's not that the MPs, the parliamentarians became more like us more like the people who elected them. What's happened in the last generation, and it's a pretty dramatic and sudden change, is we have become more like them. They haven't become younger, poorer, less well educated. They’ve become a bit younger. They definitely haven't become poorer. They definitely haven't become less well educated. The electorate has become better off—although of course not everyone—significantly better educated, and above all, older.
So the really startling fact about Italy, and I think—I can't be completely sure about this because haven't done all of the research—but I'm going to take a stab on this. I think Italy is the first society, democratic society in human history where the average age of its members of parliament, its lower house, is lower than the average age of its population because it's 45 for the Italian parliament, the Lower House, and the median age, not the average age, of the Italian population is now 46. So half of all Italians are 46 and older. So the electorate is older than its representatives—not because the representatives are so much younger than they used to be. They’re a bit younger. But the Italian people are so much older than they used to be 50 years ago, 100 years ago, where you had that magic number of 50. Basically, MPs, parliamentarians, are always around 50, they were representing populations where the median age was in the low to mid 20s, where most people in those countries were either children or very young adults. Now you look at Italy. Most people in Italy are either late middle aged or old. This is a massive change in how politics works. [15:57]
Something similar is going on with education. So if you look at the figures for education, it's always been the case in the modern history of democracy, certainly through the 20th century, that having a university degree was one of the ways to get into politics. And it wasn't a requirement, it wasn’t an entry requirement, but the majority of people, for instance in the British House of Commons or in the US Congress since the Second World War anyway, have had university degrees. That hasn't changed. If anything the trend has continued. So now in the U.S. Senate, everyone has a degree. In the House of Representatives, I think it's something like 95 percent are college educated. In the House of Commons it's about 90 percent. Fifty years ago though, when it was more like 70 or 80 percent, those MPs, those Congress people were representing populations where almost no one went to university. So in Britain in the 1960s, the early 1960s, between 1 and 2 percent of the electorate went to university. There's a election survey that was conducted in 1964 of the British general election that took place that year that elected Harold Wilson at the head of a Labour government, and they surveyed something more than 1,000 people to get their views to try and understand how and why people had voted and they cut across various categories for gender, for class, for age, and also for education. But they didn't bother with university education because as the writers of that report said in 1964, they took a random sample of roughly 1,000 people and nine of them had been to university. So actually it wasn't representative because it should have been more like 18, but it basically was not even worth asking what difference a university education makes to the electorate because no one had a degree. Now, where 90-95 percent of MPs have a degree, among people under the age of 40 in Britain it's close to 45 percent also have a degree. So the big shift has been in the population not in the representative class. And that, I think, I'm going to try and argue in the second part of this talk, helps to explain a large part of what's going on in our politics.
I’m going to try and draw three lessons from this short version of a very long story about the latest phase, the one where the gap has started to close between us and them, not because we have made them like us but they have made us like them. I'm aware I'm doing this in groups of three, so I'm going to give you three things that I think follow from what I've just said. The first is that the basic fault line in democratic politics has shifted. In the history that runs back to the end of the 18th century, the history of modern representative democracy, until very recently, everyone recognized that the fault line was between the electorate and their representatives. They were nothing like the people that they represented. Those educated elites who wound up in Parliament might try and represent different parts of the population. They might well, and many of them did, try to speak for the less well-off, the disadvantaged, the people lacking in education. They might well try and speak for the young. Indeed it was a good idea to try and speak for the young because there were more young people than old people. So you had a better chance of winning if you could capture the 20 something vote. But they themselves were not young. They were not disadvantaged. The fear was that that huge gap that existed between the kind of people in parliament the kind of people who elected them might eventually lead people to lose confidence in democracy altogether, that there might be a legitimation crisis or a crisis of faith in democracy because people basically said that gap is too wide and skilful politicians would exploit that gap. And the people who were the critics of democracy in the 20th century actually tried to exploit that gap to tear democracy down, and the collapse of democracy in the first half of the 20th century was because they were politicians who persuaded the electorate that this system simply didn't work. It did not speak for them. You couldn't have a system that worked in that way. [20:03]
The fault line has moved. That was a kind of horizontal fault line between, I guess you could call it the “political class,” and the rest. The fault line is now within the electorate. It's between us and us not us and them. Because when I said we’ve become older, we’ve become better educated, we’ve become better off, of course it's not true of everyone. On some of these measures it's kind of true of half of us, half of people now, certainly under the age of 40, are university educated—nearly half—and half aren't. In a society where the median age is 46 and the average age of the members of parliament is 45, half of people are going to be older and half of people are gonna be younger, and that half, that half who are younger obviously is going to exclude in terms of voting all of those people who are under the voting age. So actually there are going to be many more voters who are older than 45 than under 45. So not everyone is going to be included in this. We've become more like them, but maybe half of us are going to be, we become more like them. So the disputes, the fights, are going to be between different sections of the electorate because, one way you could characterize this, is that the political class… and people still talk all the time about the political class and the ways in which the people have become alienated from the political class. But the political class now includes a large chunk of the electorate, not in terms of decision making but in terms of social and demographic characteristics.
If you have a society where everyone in Parliament went to university and half the electorate went to university, then the other half of the electorate are going to feel doubly excluded. They don't have representation in parliament. But there's a whole chunk of the electorate that seems to be represented in parliament by default. And if you look at something like Brexit, I don't think you can explain it without understanding the extent to which, given we now know whether or not someone had a university degree was one of the key determinants of their likelihood to vote either leave or remain, if you have a parliament where almost everyone is on one side of that divide, you're going to have a large section of the population who feel the parliament is no longer representative. But unlike in the 1930s, where the fault line is just between the population and the parliament, the obvious group of people to take out that resentment is not just the parliamentarians but it's the half of the population who seem to be propping it up. And you have this weird effect that I think most MPs recognise that Parliament is not representative if whether or not you have a university degree is one of the key determinants of how people voted on the central issue of our time, Brexit. And I think Parliament actually contains a lot of people who no longer know what it means to represent a nation in which they are all on one side of that line and half the population are on the other. So we know, given that having a university degree is one of the things that shapes people's views about Brexit, if members of parliament were given a genuinely free vote there is a large majority for remain because it's a university educated body. But they don't dare. Because they know they don't represent a large section of the population. That division is part of what's making our politics so much more polarised, so much more partisan. It’s probably even more extreme in the United States, which is more partisan and more polarized. It's because the division in democracy for the first time is within the electorate not between the electorate and their representatives.
So that then leads onto the second conclusion one might draw from this story that I've told, which is that 200 plus year story that justifies representative democracy, which is the reason you have elections, is precisely because of those ancient fears about being ruled by the poor, the less well educated, and the young no longer hold. You don't need to be frightened of being ruled by the young anymore because there aren't enough of them. Democracy was until very recently always understood to mean politics for young people because there are always more young people. Democracy is now politics for old people. And if that's true, and if those implicit fears no longer hold, maybe the justification of representative democracy no longer holds. So that was why we don't do direct democracy. That's why educated elites didn't want direct democracy, to keep those people out. Well what if they don't anymore have to worry about that?
And we are living through an age where there is increasing dissatisfaction with representative democracy, not, I think, in that early 20th century version where people are actually going to say that this society is broken between its electorate and their representatives, but simply because I think people are increasingly skeptical of the idea that all decision making power should reside with this elite group in parliament. And when you look at it, you can see that actually both sides have a point here. So if you are part of the group that is almost by definition excluded from parliamentary representation: young, less well educated, you can say why should I be represented in a parliament where there aren't any people like me. I want a more direct say. This is in a way the ancient demand of the people who democracy is meant to work for, in whose interests is meant to operate. Let us actually be heard—that's a cry that resonates all the way back to ancient Athens.
But there's a new version of this, which is, if you're on the other side of that divide, if you look at Parliament and you see people just like you: you've got a degree, they've got a degree, you're reasonably comfortably off, they’re reasonably comfortably off, you're 65 and they're 45. So they're not even more experienced than you. Why do they get to decide for you? Why don't you get to decide for yourself? If there isn't such a difference anymore between people in parliament and large numbers of people outside of Parliament, those large numbers of people outside Parliament have a good case for saying we want to be heard too. We want to decide. They don't have any special qualifications. They're not smarter than us. They're not older than us. They're not more experienced than us. And again you see it in Brexit. Both sides want a more direct say: people who won the first referendum want that vote to hold; people who want to undo that first referendum want a second referendum. Almost no one wants to leave it up to Parliament anymore. And this is a fundamental tension, I think, in contemporary representative democracy and it's possible that we're coming towards the end of something that has held for 200 years plus but isn't going to hold for much longer, which is the line against direct democracy. I think there's a good reason for thinking that quite soon no one is going to be satisfied with pure representative democracy. It's not good enough.
Direct democracy does not have to mean more referendums.There are lots of ways we could do it: more deliberation, citizens juries, using new technology to give people more of a say. Many many different forms of participation that we’ve barely even tried because representative democracy was designed to prevent it. That was its point. It was to keep people out. And now on both sides of the social divide in our politics people no longer accept that there is a good reason to keep them out. So we could, in this long story short version I've been giving you, be coming to the end of the second phase, the representative democracy phase.
But the third conclusion is the one that I think I feel most strongly about, which is if there's one group that is really really disadvantaged at the moment, it is the group that democracy used to be for and is now against, and that's the young. So it's true, and I wouldn't deny this for a minute, that the poor, the less well-off, the disadvantaged can also be massively discriminated against by a system of representative democracy, precisely because it's very hard for those groups to get direct representation. I think that's always been true. There's lots of studies of this, particularly in America, American political science, where people have looked at the ways in which Congress is skewed massively against the interests of the less well-off because it doesn't actually give them a representative voice. But I think that that's nothing new and if it is still true today, which I think it is, it's not true today for new reasons. The thing that is new is the disadvantage felt by younger generations because that's the huge demographic shift towards societies where people are so old. They're as old as their MPs.
It sometimes is said of our politics, because people have noticed that it skews towards the interests of the old, it defends their pensions and makes students pay tuition fees, that this is because young people don't vote enough. They're too lazy, they’re too millennial, they don't get out of bed in time to get to the polling station. Old people have a sense of duty. If only young people—and young people here is usually a proxy for students—if only they could be bothered to vote it wouldn't be so bad. You need to speak up in order to get your interests heard. That might once have been true. I'm not sure it was ever that true. But the thing that's true today is that if every young person voted in a society like Britain, definitely in a society like Italy, at least not the oldest society in the world in Japan, the median age is now approaching 50—if every young person voted and every old person voted, the old people would win. And that is a serious disincentive to vote because the system is basically geared to your defeat. And that is profoundly disillusioning. And I think if you're young you can say that politics doubly discriminates against you.
And this is not true, actually, I think of people who lack a college education. So people who lack a college education, university education can legitimately say their parliaments, their Congress, their legislatures don't represent them because everyone there has a degree and everyone is thinking like an educated elitist. And who's speaking for the ordinary people, the people who have just been to school and now trying to make a living? But it turns out that those people can marshal a majority. It is still the case that we live in societies where the majority of people do not have a university degree and you can't explain Brexit, you can't explain Trump without this fact that you can forge an alliance between, in the case of Brexit, well-off Tory voting, property owning, 60 somethings in the south of England and angry, disillusioned, unemployed, or people working in very precarious jobs,, 30 somethings or 20 somethings in the north of England. You can form an alliance between those people and you can win a vote like Brexit because what those two groups have in common is neither set went to university. So the people who are affluent in the south of England, own their own homes, voted for Brexit because of their age because almost no one went to university when they were young. They don’t have a college degree, a university degree and nor do large numbers of young people who have been excluded or disadvantaged by the education system. There are more people without than with a university degree in societies that are now governed by a class that is universally almost a university educated class. So there is still at least the possibility if you want to push back against your hyper educated rulers to find a coalition of people who reject that. [32:00]
But young people don't have that option. If all the young people gather together they lose. They are massively outnumbered because the voting age is 18. Whereas there isn't a cutoff at the other end. You don't lose the vote when you get to be 75. You can carry on voting until the day you die and there is no test. You don't have to have particular abilities to understand the world. You could be frankly demented and still you get to vote, which is as it should be. So young people are the losers here. They are not represented in parliaments. There are still, even En Marche, even Five Star, they've just managed to get the average age down to the mid 40s. But if you look at the British House of Commons, how many 20 year olds are there? I don't actually know the answer to this but I'm pretty sure you can count it on fingers of two hands, maybe one hand. There’s a lot little excitement in the US at the moment about some young people, particularly young women who've been elected to Congress in the last midterms. But the excitement is a function of how incredibly rare it is. There are again a handful, relative to the swathes of late middle aged men who still dominate Congress, and certainly dominate the Senate. The young people are not represented in their parliaments and they are losing in their electorates. I think you could even say that young people are triply discriminated against because the other thing that seems to me insane about our politics is that if you're in your 20s, you’re not represented in your parliament. You keep losing elections. And you're expected to care about the future, the environment, the unborn. It’s your job as a young person to somehow take up causes that old people are a little bit too long in the tooth to worry about.
So somehow we live in a world where even though if you're in your 20s politics means that you are losing on all the important practical questions, you’re also meant to be the people who look after the planet, worry about the environment, think about what the world will be like in 50 years time because you're the ones who are going to live in it, and the old people will be dead by then. So it's your job as the person or group of people who are going to live in the future to care about the future whereas the people who aren't going to live into the future can just care about the present. So that would make sense if there were more young people than old people, but if there are more old people than young people, you can't just automatically empower a group of people that you also say don't have an obligation to the future because they're not going to live in it. So something's gone profoundly wrong.
Before I say what I think we should maybe do about this it is also important to recognize that these are first world problems. When I talk about our societies, I really mean speaking for myself, societies like the one I live in: the West, Britain, America, Europe, places like Japan too, and societies that are aging all around the world. China is much older than it used to be. But there are many parts of the world where the fundamental challenge of politics is still the huge number of young people, not just in democratic terms but just in basic provision terms, finding jobs, finding outlets for people's desire to lead a productive life. That's true in many places in Africa. In some of the poorest countries in the world the median age is still in the teens. So these are societies where half the population is a child. And even in some relatively mature democracies. So the great exception here is India. Indian democracy, the biggest democracy in the world, a long lasting democracy, it's been around as long as many of the European democracies since the Second World War. In Indian democracy the demographics are completely different. So in the Indian parliament, the average age is actually older than it is in many European and Western parliaments. It's in the mid to high 50s. At the start of this decade, the average age of members of the Indian Parliament was 30 years higher than the average age of the Indian population, which was still in the high 20s. So 57 year old MPs representing 27 year olds. And India is also a society with a massive preponderance of young men. I haven't talked in this lecture about the whole gender side of this question, the representation of women when we live in genuine democracies where everyone gets the vote, there is still this huge , inbuilt structural barrier against women getting into parliament. When you look at India you see something that in many ways looks more like the earlier part of the story than in the West. So before I say what I think we should do about this problem it is important to acknowledge I'm talking about societies like the one I live in, like Britain, like Western Europe, like America. I'm not talking about everywhere. [36:38]
So I'm going to… I’m not going to do three, I’m going to do two suggestions that come out of this. They probably both sound unrealistic. Maybe they are. Let's see. So the first one is just to push back against that last point and to reject the argument that the future belongs to young people not old people. If you live in a political system where old people are the majority, and to go back to where I started, that's the basic fact about democracy: if there are more of you, you win. And there are definitely more of, I want to say them, but I have to say us. There are more of us. So we win. So we own the future. Old people own the future not young people. It's the responsibility of old people to care about the environment. It’s the responsibility of old people to think about what the world might be like in 2050 even though they're not going to live to see it because old people are currently the coalition that have a huge inbuilt advantage in representative democratic politics.
The second point is there probably is something we could do about the voting age. So there's a huge argument that's rumbled away in British politics for a while about whether it should be lowered to 16. It happened in Scotland before the referendum. It was resisted for the whole of the U.K. It was probably resisted by the Conservative government because there is a fear that if you let 16-17 year olds vote you going to start losing. If 16 and 17 year olds voted in the 2017 general election there's a chance that Jeremy Corbyn would now be prime minister. So I get why Theresa May might not want that. If 16 and 17 year olds voted in the Brexit referendum it would have been closer but it probably still wouldn't have been enough to overturn the original result. But actually talking about two years isn't enough. There's such a huge structural imbalance that adding two years to a story that at the other end of the scale now extends to people in the 80s, 90s, hundreds. It's not radical enough. So I would lower the voting age to 6 not 16. Because, and I’m serious about that for two reasons. First, it seems absurd but—actually I think I would want people who vote to be able to read so I would exclude reception but maybe year two, or something like that—partly because if the old fear was if you let people vote they will vote for people like them, we know it's not true. So I'm pretty confident that 9 year olds wouldn't elect 9 year olds to Parliament. And even if they wanted to they would be outvoted. So you're not going to end up with 9 year olds in parliament. But also it is the case that we don't have a cutoff at the other end. You get to vote right the way through to the end of your life, regardless of whether you're capable of voting or not. And we're fine with that. We're right to be fine with it. We don't ask people to pass a test when they're in their 90s to see if they're still capable of voting. Of course they should be allowed to vote. And there are suggestions to change the system by introducing various kinds of gradations into it, maybe to give more votes to younger people, to use actuarial tables and try and calibrate the votes are actually rectify this imbalance. That's all insane. You should never never interfere with the basic principle of democracy that connects the ancient world to the modern world, which is one person one vote, and you should never take votes away from people. So again, I know there are people who think, well maybe you should lose your vote once you pass 80, that would also be insane and a recipe for disaster.
So why not? Why not open it up? What the worst that could happen? At least it would be exciting. It would make elections more fun. It seems like a frivolous suggestion. It is partly frivolous because it's never going to happen in a million years. But as a way of capturing just how structurally unbalanced our democracies have become, seriously, why not? Why not six year olds? I don't think there's much harm that can be done because the point of representative democracy is it's basically designed to prevent that kind of harm. But it would at least be different.
CATHERINE: If you missed last year's lecture on how democracy ends and now you fancy catching up then head to talkingpoliticspodcast.com. All of our back catalogue of our old episodes can be found there. There's also the chance to ask the panel questions. You can record one. It's really easy. And now and again we choose one and we get them to answer it at the end of the podcast. Also keep an eye out on Twitter, where we post interesting links from every episode. Next week Helen and David will be back to talk about the Brexit vote. Thank you for listening. We've been talking politics.