Recent posts have imagined some consequences of a future with two parallel governments with mutually exclusive voting populations divided by voting-age eligibility and voter choice. The government with the lower voting age eligibility has responsibility for operating and protecting the the government. The government with the higher voting age eligibility has responsibility for servicing the debt and obligations such as dispensing entitlements and pensions.
Both governments set a lower limit but no upper limit on voting ages.
The minimum voting age for the operational government would be 16 years old. I justify the lower voting age as an inducement to engage the voters in committing to the consequences of their vote. Assuming a biannual election, the 16 year old voter will be engaged in government through the ages of 17 and 18. I dismiss the relevance of the debate on whether a 16 year old is mature enough to vote because the relative weight of their vote is small and it more important to give them a stake in government as they enter young adulthood.
The minimum voting age for the debt-servicing government would be 55 years old. Voters over this age have the option of voting in this government, but their registration would automatically remove voter registration for the operational government. Although older voters can choose to remain in the operational government, the implications of entitlements and labor oversight of older adults would be strong incentives to switch.
My concept of the operational government would limit its jurisdiction over governing the population to only the population who are younger than 55. The government of debt servicing would have jurisdiction of laws (such as labor laws) governing older adults. Given the priority on the challenges of servicing debts and entitlements, I expect this government will spent far less attention on labor laws. This gives an strong incentive for older adults to switch their voting registration so that they will have more influence on the government that will more directly impact their lives. Coincidentally, this will achieve my primary goal of disenfranchising the older voters from the operational government in order to restore the more vibrant democracy that our country enjoyed for the first 150 years or so when young adults dominated the electorate.
My recent posts consider the future implications for this type of government. I imagine some form of constitutional convention that will produce a new constitutional government that must accommodate the current obligations of the government. In particular, a large part of these obligations concern the huge national debt and the obligatory spending for the extensive entitlement or welfare programs. Dividing the government to have one devoted to servicing these debts makes sense now because these obligations are so large and challenging.
For this post I want to consider an alternative history where we had this parallel government from the start. When the initial constitution was adopted, the current wording would apply to the operational government. The original constitution could have included more articles to set up a separate government for managing the obligations. The separate government would have a distinct voting population with more restrictive voter eligibility that eventually would evolve to be a minimum voting age of 55.
Initially, our government had very little debts and no entitlement spending. Even though the debt was small in comparison to modern debt, the size of the debt at the time did motivate a lot of political debate. There was sufficient controversy over the debt that they could have justified a distinct government specifically charged with managing the debt. I realize that that was never a political possibility at the time, but from the advantage of a modern perspective I can imagine the early leaders having the foresight to see an advantage to separate government of debt from government of operational needs. For this discussion, I am going to assume that that actually happened: the founding fathers truly had exceptional foresight that some today ascribe to them.
As I mentioned in earlier posts, the demographics of the early decades of this government were such that the population of voters over 55 were insignificant in numbers to influence elections by their votes. Many of those older people also had health problems or other interests that distracted or prevented them from voting. Setting up a government based on a high voting age for the purpose of managing debts and other financial obligations would have had an insignificant impact on the elections for the operational government.
The broad arc of history at least until the mid 20th century probably would have matched our experience. There were a need for debt but there was a government with a relatively small constituency to approve the debt. There would have been debates, but it is likely the debates would have been similar to the ones we actual endured. The debts would have been approved.
Things would begin to change after the mid 20th century when the constituency for the debt-servicing government would grow because the population was aging. Also, this is the time when there was more pressure to introduce new entitlement programs or expand the generosity of the existing programs. I imagine the alternative history to start to diverge noticeably in the latter decades of the 20th century.
Our current government simultaneously legislates for operational and debt-obligation needs for the government. Recently, the political parties invest a lot into GOTV (get out the vote) initiatives where a large part consists of getting older voters who otherwise are not as inclined to vote and may be personally more indifferent of the choices. The growing numbers of older people makes this GOTV effort worthwhile to influence the elections.
In some cases, the GOTV effort involves younger volunteers to provide complimentary transportation to polls with a final opportunity to influence the vote. The influence will probably include appeals of the promises of one candidate to extend or at least protect the government provided benefits to the older population.
In the current government, the older people have an incentive to vote in favor of increasing or protecting entitlements (at least those for elderly) with little concern over consequences of debt. The younger voters encourage this motivation in order to elect their preferred candidates who coincidentally promise more immediate operational issues of interest to those younger voters.
If instead we always had a split government where the older voters would migrate to the government responsible for serving the debts and obligations, one immediate consequence is that the older population will become irrelevant to the younger voters. The younger voters have no incentive to GOTV for older voters whose vote’s will not apply to the election that interests the younger voters more. As I conjectured above, a large portion of the older population is disinterested in politics and lack motivation to vote at all. For that population, their vote will only count if someone goes out of their way to bring them to the polls. The younger population will lose its incentive to do this, and the older population (peers) will lack the energy or motivation to do this.
Voter participation in the government for managing debt obligations will probably be even lower than what we see today. One consequence of this result is that the people who do vote will have stronger motivations for voting.
This motivation is around concerns about the financial obligations of this government. This government must simultaneously balance debt serving (interest payments) with entitlement allocations given a finite budget. That finite budget consists of directly taxing the older population, incurring new debts, or begging for a transfer of funds from the operation government (that can tax the younger population).
I assume that a democratic government with a sole interest in governing older people and managing debts and entitlements will be as politically challenging as the government of operational interests that characterized the US government for the first 150 years.
In more modern times, increasing debts will mean more interest payments that will take funds away from entitlements. In order to tax the older population, the labor laws will need to provide new inducements for employers to hire workers who are no longer governed by the more restrictive labor laws of the younger (under 55) workers. Any shortfalls in revenue will require begging for transfer of funds from the operational government.
I see little evidence in our current government that we have any debate at all about this inter-generational transfer of wealth. That debate become explicit in the two government model and almost certainly will be contentious.
I expect the transfers will occur because there is complementary financial need for new debts to finance the operational government (such as funding wars or investing in infrastructure). The younger voters will need to approve transfer of money to fund the debt-obligation government while the older voters will need to approve any new debts to fund the operational government.
The politics of this financial transfer between governments will restrain both governments. The ideal for each government is self-funding so there is no need for any exchange. While this is impossible because both governments need financial capabilities controlled by the other side, there will be political pressure to maximize self financing of each government.
In particular, the government of older voters will be very reluctant to increase both debts and entitlement obligations. At the same time, it will have an incentive to maximize the workforce participation of its constituency to provide more tax revenues. I conjecture that need for tax revenues will partly explain why the labor laws on employers of older workers will be more lenient than for younger workers. But, there is a limitation of declining productivity and labor-market relevance of older adults. The potential for self-financing the older government is limited by the availability of employment for the older adults.
Within this alternative history and starting around 1960, I imagine a different progression of obligation growth in terms of number of programs, of more generous eligibility requirements, of more generous benefits, and of higher national debt. Although the constituency for this part of government are the primary beneficiaries of the obligations, there will be major political differences based on different interests within this age group based on differences in wealth, earning potential, need for entitlements, etc. The financial requirements for self-funding the government or begging for transfer from the operational government will heighten the political debate.
My guess is that in this alternative form of government, the expansion of entitlements and debts would occur much more slowly than what we experienced with a unified government. In the unified government, there was little restraint on increasing entitlements and debts. There are no politically strong arguments to restrain this growth. In the parallel government of different responsibilities, the need to finance the obligations will become explicit and this will provide a stronger argument for restraining the growth of new obligations.
In addition, the severing of the two constituency will reduce the incentive for younger voters to use entitlements as a leverage for GOTV of older people. While some of the entitlement expansion would still originate from the younger voters, it will be more subdued because the candidates for the government for debts and entitlements will not be the same candidates for the operational government that stand on other urgent issues for the younger adults.
In our history, most of the enthusiasm for entitlement expansion (in terms of active advocacy to government) came from the younger population. In this alternative history, the younger population would have no direct representation in the government that would set entitlement policies. The government that decides on the extent of entitlements is the government of all obligations. That government has a higher voting age eligibility for a constituency that is excluded from voting in the operational government.
Assuming that that overall economic conditions turn out similar to what we actually experienced, I have little doubt that the alternative form of government would have increased these obligations but I doubt we would have increased them as much. New entitlement programs would face strong political opposition that would delay or scale down the obligations. Similar opposition would occur to expanding eligibility or benefits for existing programs, or for increasing the debt. In this alternative history, the problem of obligations might have been better managed than what we experienced.
In earlier posts I argued that we would experience more prosperity and economic growth with the parallel government. The liberation of the younger adults to operate the government free from interference of older voters mimics the early history of this country where democracy was dominated by younger adults. An alternative history of a parallel government for this past 200 years probably would have been even more prosperous than what we experienced with a single government responsible for both operations and debt obligations. If that were to happen, the entitlements might have ended up being comparably generous on individual basis but still a smaller fraction of the total economy.
More likely other unforeseen circumstances would probably counter this advantage and the prosperity would end up about the same as what we actually experienced. The parallel government approach would have kept the debt obligation portion of spending to be a smaller portion of the economy and thus the current programs would be less generous than we have today. The programs would not have as many eligible participants, or offer as high of benefits.