As Greta Thunberg thundered at world leaders at the UN Climate Action Summit in September, her outrage was palpable and made global headlines. Her scathing attacks on the lax implementation of international standards to mitigate impending environmental disaster, and the lack of collective action at the expense of short-term economic gains created a virtual divide.
This divide is between the relatively wealthy older generation who she has accused of being passive in the face of impending disaster and the dynamic, revolutionary youngsters who are almost insurgent in their determination to preserve the natural world. She accused the former of the criminal injustice of having stolen the childhood of her and others and their right to live and dream in the security of a future, bequeathing to them instead of a world whose future is becoming increasingly toxic, violent and uncertain.
Young advocates the world over are battling crises that affect their cohort exponentially more than comparatively older demographics. Issues such as climate change, the impending water crisis, student loans, stagnating real wages are far more concerning for the youth of today than their older counterparts who are least at risk.
In other words, imprudent decisions taken today may have disastrous consequences for the future with rising intergenerational debt levels that undermine essential capital investments for development, reduced standards of living, eventual loss of livelihoods, and ecosystems.
Yet, the youth do not have a seat at the decision-making table.
Many countries today suffer from a lopsided generational representation in their Parliaments and legislative assemblies. Only 12% of the members of the current Lok Sabha are under 40 years of age whereas 65% of the population is below 35 years.
Participation among the youth in politics has been declining as well. The first two Lok Sabhas had as many as 164 MPs in the age group of 25-40 years. The current Lok Sabha has around 65 MPs who are between 25-40 years. This disparity is telling when it comes to policy decisions, especially with regard to issues that affect the young far more significantly. This begs the question of whether the young are underrepresented in today’s decision-making process.
There is an interesting alternative solution to the above which has, even at the nascent stage of a thought experiment, created quite a buzz. Age-weighted voting systems look to diminish the role of a ‘one-vote-one-voice idea’, and instead provide younger voters with significantly higher leverage in the democratic process.
Let us, for example, consider a hypothetical four-player decision-making system. Each player’s votes are weighted differently. This may be enumerated in the following way:
(Q: P1, P2, P3, P4} => (18: 12, 8, 6, 4)
The above can be understood as follows: the corresponding weights for Players 1 to 4 are 12, 8, 6, and 4. So, when Player 1 casts a vote, it is equivalent to casting 12 votes, when Player 2 casts a vote, it is equivalent to casting 8 votes and so on. Thus, there are, in total, a possibility of 12+8+6+4 i.e. 30 votes being cast when all players in the system participate.
The variable Q, which has a value of 18, represents the minimum number of votes that may be cast in favour of (or against) a particular proposal for it to pass. Typically, a value just over one half of the total number of votes (by weight and not by person) is usually fixed as the minimum required number, and is called reaching quota. In our hypothetical case, the quota is randomly fixed at 18.
Now suppose: Player 1 depicts 18 to 27-year-olds; Player 2 depicts 28 to 37-year-olds; Player 3 depicts 38 to 47-year-olds; Player 4 depicts 48+ voters (for argument’s sake let us assume that retirement age is about 40 in this system). The different combinations of the results of the game, assuming more than one player engages in the referendum (since no single player can reach quota on their own) would be as follows:
When we study the winning combinations (iterations in which the proposal reaches quota) we can identify ‘critical players’ in every round. Critical players are those players in the selected iteration without whom it would be impossible to reach quota. In the two-player combinations that are successful [(P1, P2) and (P1, P3)] both players are naturally critical as no single player has enough weighted votes to reach quota on their own.
In the three-player combination, however, the number of critical players differ in every iteration. In the first one (P1, P2, P3), the quota cannot be reached without Player 1 but Players 2 and 3 are dispensable if either one of them combines her votes with Player 1. In the second round (P1, P3, P4), Player 1 is critical as Players 3 and 4 cannot reach quota on their own.
However, Player 3 is also critical because Players 1 and 4 cannot reach quota on their own. In the last three-player combination (P2, P3, P4), all three players are critical. In the four-player combination, when all players participate, none are critical.
We can also calculate the Banzhaf Index of Power: an index that measures the political power of each member of a voting group, for each player. It is derived by counting the total number of times a member (or cohort) is critical for reaching quota divided by the total number of critical players in each successful round. In our example, for every winning combination, there are in total ten times players are critical. Player 1 is critical in 4 out of the ten times, so its Index measure is 40%. Similarly, players 2, 3 and 4 have a power index of 20%, 30%, and 10%, respectively.
What is interesting is that higher weights do not correspond to a higher power index. This could have interesting implications in policy which merit consideration:
Greta Thunberg’s address to the UN was greeted with both rapturous enthusiasm as well as some very denigrating, merciless attacks. If age-weighted voting is seriously considered as an alternative to current voting systems, this kind of mixed reaction is to be expected since broad acceptance for the idea will be difficult to achieve. However, the rationale of an age-weighted voting system proves quite tempting, and difficult to ignore as a legitimate systemic reform.
About the author: Meghna Paul is a Research Associate at Accountability Initiative.
This post was originally published here.