Britain’s decision to leave the EU has triggered many incredible responses by some in the Remain camp who don’t seem to want to let democracy run its course. Labour MP David Lammy is calling for parliament to ignore the result of the referendum; three million people (and counting) have signed a petition to force a second referendum; some are treating their fellow citizens with scorn and derision, questioning their intelligence; and still others are arguing that younger people’s votes, because they have to live with this decision longer, should count for more than older people’s. Those in this latter camp are taking the position that old age pensioners, who generally voted Leave, are making a decision that won’t impact them for long, whereas it will impact the young for decades to come.
One could easily argue that an older generation that actually lived through the era of an independent Britain might be better placed to make this momentous decision than a generation that didn’t and still lives at home. But what of the argument that the young will be impacted more than the old? Arguably that’s not true at all. As my friend Stephen Franks noted:
“Young have years to recover from mistaken investment and other decisions. Young may live to see a decision reversed, if it is recognized to be a mistake. Young probably have less savings to suffer devaluation. Young can usually retrain or shift occupations and relocate far more easily.”
On the other hand, the elderly have more assets at stake and a shorter time horizon to change a decision like this. It’s interesting to note that in many ways, this vote flips conventional wisdom on its head. Seldom do the elderly take a bold step into the unknown. Most often they support the status quo, for instance to protect their unfunded taxpayer provided entitlements and pass the bill to the next generation. On the other hand, the young are generally the risk-takers. But in this instance, many of them are trying to duck the result of the referendum due to their fear of the unfamiliar.
Those calling for younger votes to count for more in referenda like this want to lead the UK down a thoroughly undemocratic slippery slope. This would result in a situation comparable to the US when black slaves only counted as three-fifths of a person in the late 18th century.
But let’s follow their logic for a moment. If the proposal is for people with a shorter time horizon on earth to be valued less at the polls, then surely that should include people with terminal illnesses. And what about ethnic groups with lower life expectancy? In the US that would mean blacks should count less than average Americans, and Americans of Asian descent, who generally live longer, should count more. The idea is preposterous.
The fact of the matter is that, as many have written, there were plenty of good reasons to vote either way in this referendum. It was a close call and the vote reflects that. The Wall Street Journal acknowledged as much when it advocated Remain. One of the best articles I came across by an economist who supported Leave acknowledged there were good arguments for remaining in the EU.
That should give pause to everyone upset about Thursday’s outcome. There were a solid number of pros and cons on either side of the debate. We should see how the pro arguments on the Leave side play out. Sir James Dyson, the eponymous inventor of the bagless vacuum cleaner, enumerated plenty of good reasons to leave. Let’s hope that he and the majority of voters were right in assessing that they outweigh the cons. In other words, keep calm and carry on.