Baby Boomers and American gerontocracy

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By Penn State McCourtney Institute for Democracy/The Democracy Group. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

The Baby Boomers are the most powerful generation in American history — and they’re not going away anytime soon. Their influence in politics, media, business, and other areas of life is likely to continue for at least the next decade. What does that mean for younger generations?

Generational conflict, with Millennials and Generation Z pitted against the aging Boomer cohort, has become a media staple. Older and younger voters are increasingly at odds: Republicans as a whole skew gray-haired, and within the Democratic Party, the left-leaning youth vote propels primary challengers. The generation gap is widening into a political fault line. Kevin Munger leverages data and survey evidence to argue that generational conflict will define the politics of the next decade.

Munger is an assistant professor of political science and social data analytics at Penn State and the author of the new book Generation Gap: Why Baby Boomers Still Dominate American Politics and Culture.

Additional Information

Generation Gap: Why Baby Boomers Still Dominate American Politics and Culture

Kevin Munger on Substack

Kevin Munger on Twitter

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Episode Transcript

Chris Beem
From the McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State University, I’m Chris Beem.

Candis Watts Smith
I’m Candis Watts Smith.

Candis Watts Smith
I’m Jenna Spinelle and welcome to Democracy Works. This week we are talking with Kevin Munger, who is an assistant professor of political science and social data analytics here at Penn State and author of the new book generation gap, why baby boomers still dominate American politics and culture. And, you know, as we’ve said, on the show before, Candis, you and I are both millennials and Chris, you and Michael are both boomers. So we really personify on the show a lot of the things that Kevin talks about in his book, and it’s, you know, it’s easy to laugh about memes, like, OK, Boomer, and you know, things like this, but I think Kevin’s work really shows us that underneath all of that there are some really, really pressing issues that are worthy of our attention and our consideration.

Chris Beem
Yeah, I think that’s right. I mean, obviously, there is something, you know, pretty fundamental going on, when you have a phenomenon like the boomers just in terms of their sheer number and a number alone, right? I mean, they’re going to have an impact on society at large. I mean, you know, they talk about the pig through the Python it every stage of their lives, they are going to impact and dominate the society, the society as a whole. But now these boomers are, well, let’s say it old, and so they’re becoming, they’re growing into in terms of the lifestyle that are the life cycle, kind of the pinnacle of their power, in terms of politics, and especially, and especially politics and economics. And that’s reflected in our politics, it sets up this kind of conflict that Kevin sees on the horizon. And that has serious implications for our politics right now. And in the near and medium term future.

Candis Watts Smith
So just to be clear, boomers are people who were born Americans who were born between 1946 and 1964. And millennials, that is a term that we often use to mean young people, but the eldest millennial is 41. So they range from 1981 to 1986, or 1996. And, you know, we tend to talk about millennials in terms of like, the me generation or snowflakes are super entitled, but they are also a group that is one of the most diverse generational cohorts, they are part of the biggest part of the working work like working Americans, they are a large part of the American electorate. And, you know, the thing is, is that, you know, each generation, we, you know, we can talk about, like how real or not real these groups are, but, you know, by trend, on average, members of each of the generations have very different experiences, and, you know, come to age, in different political moments and different economic moments that shaped their lives and outlooks. And so, yeah, while we tend to, as you said, Chris, kind of joke around about, you know, hey, boomers are entitled millennials, that there are, you know, particular sets of political, economic and social interests that are shared across generations. And when we see that one group dominates, having a say, on the policies and politics and we have a problem, if we’re supposed to be living in a society where people who have an interest at stake should be able to have a say, either in the mass public or as political elites, right.

Chris Beem
The other thing that he did that Kevin says is is really important, is the idea that there’s a form of media by which this experience is conveyed is mediated to these individuals. So for baby boomers, the big thing is the three networks, right there were ABC, CBS, and NBC. And that was the only TV you could get it was all over the air. And these were shared experiences. There wasn’t an American who didn’t know who Walter Cronkite was. There were, I mean, you know, when we would go to school in the morning, it was just an assumption that everyone had watched happy days the night before. And so what he said, Kevin’s arguing is that not only do baby boomers have these kinds of shared experiences, but they also have this shared media that I help them define these events and help them to find themselves in relationship to those events. And so there’s a double whammy in terms of baby boomers power, because there’s so many of them, and they’re so cohesive around as a result of this shared media. And he says, that’s not the case anymore.

Candis Watts Smith
So I think even in this kind of fractured media situation, the average millennial really tuned to the fact that they were basically required to get higher education and then stepped into a job market, where they had no kind of safety net, or when they were ready to buy a home, you know, like, what happened there, or when they’re ready to start a family as we move through, you know, through the, you know, now you want to start a family, but you have college debt, and so you have all of these things. So, you know, the state of the economy or economic shocks, terrorist attacks, assassinations, political scandals, can also make a generation. I think, you know, like, my son’s generation, and Gen Z. So my son’s generation is not named yet. But Gen Z, you know, are probably tied together by school shootings, or drills are happening by school shootings, or COVID. Right. So, you know, I think that shared media is important. But we’ll also keep in mind that generations are shaped by many things. And that I’m not really sure that the average baby boomer goes around thinking about themselves as boomers, but as people who experience a very particular social, economic and political milieu that is very different from the one that we have now.

Chris Beem
I mean, I do think I disagree slightly with your characterization, the 60s, I do think that there is, you know, this kind of identity not as being a baby born with it, but as being a child of the 60s. And growing up and and in this this tumult, right, not just of civil rights, but also of women’s rights, and of, you know, radical politics and drugs and sacks and all these things against, you know, against the prevailing mores, that vents, media all combine to create this distinctively, uniquely powerful generation in American politics. But in politics, the world is changing, and, and politics is the means by which we adapt to those changes and, and move our society forward in ways that is more productive, more more responsive to this world in which we find ourselves. Right.

Jenna Spinelle
Yeah, I think that’s, that’s well put Chris and I’m really a good synopsis of of a lot of what Kevin talks about in the book, and in this interview. So let’s get to it. Here is my conversation with Kevin Munger.

Kevin Munger, welcome to democracy works. Thanks for joining us today.

Kevin Munger
Thanks for having me. Jake. I’m excited to talk to you.

Jenna Spinelle
So lots to cover in your new book generation gap. But before we get into some of your specific arguments, I wonder if you could just talk for a little bit about the idea of a generational cohort how, you know, social scientists like yourself, think about them, versus how people in marketing or the media might think about them and how you sort of navigated the difference between the two in this book.

Kevin Munger
Yeah, absolutely. So of course, we’re all familiar with the idea of regeneration and cohort. And I think that for most people, that idea does come from the marketing angle, or from some kind of trivial, like, intergenerational sniping in clickbaity news media about oh, the boomers doing this money, I was doing that. And I think as a result, people don’t take the idea seriously enough, so precisely because it’s become so popular in a trivial way. And that kind of overshadows the kind of serious social science at its core. So the idea really gets going with a essay by German sociologist Karl Mannheim called the problem of generations. And so he was reading about your 20s. And he was trying to basically figure out what conditions give rise to a generation that experiences the world the same way. Right. So the key thing from our home was not simply the fact that you shared a birthday, it’s that you shared social location, so that there are people who are going through the same stages of life at the same time, and as a result they have had a lot more in common than people who were not. So that essay kicked off a bit of research at that period. And ever since there have been specific generations that have been identified as the result of some large scale social mobilization or some events that caused a just disproportionately large number of people to have a similar experience to the world. And so that gave social scientists a kind of ad hoc perspective on unique generations. When we come around to the 60s and 70s. The more statistically rigorous methods that were being developed that time, came to realize that there was a pretty serious problem with naive generational analysis. So this is called the age period cohort problem. And it’s essentially unsolvable. So the problem is that for a, let’s say, Today, 22 by two, we could look at the voter turnout rate by age, right, and we can observe that older people today tend to vote more often than younger people do. But that doesn’t tell us whether or not that’s an age based story, or if that’s a cohort, generational based story. So it could be the case that the cohort of people who are currently old, happen to vote more for some reason. Or it could be that older people in general happen to vote more often. So this is the end. So at any given time period. So if we hold fixed the years, why is why do we cannot disentangle these two age and cohort effects. And this gets us to the need for over time analysis. So we have a longer time series, that kind of thing, I think the bear in the book, we can start to disentangle the differences between age and cohort on a certain set of issues. And so I think that we’re sort of at a place now where 6050 years after it was problems started to be identified. We’ve got a long enough time series of data that we can start to rigorously answer some of these age period cohort questions that they couldn’t tell you.

Jenna Spinelle
I want to take a minute to set up this idea of the boomer ballast it is the one of your core concepts in the book, and I believe maybe was an early title of the book, I’m thinking about a previous draft I saw. But you say that, you know, unless you’re really into sailing or hot air balloons, the concept of of a ballasts might not be very familiar to you. So can you set up what that is and why it applies to the baby boom generation?

Kevin Munger
Absolutely. So yes, this is the key concept. If this is the only thing take away, I hope that the definition of the word balanced and the idea of we were balanced, is it. So right. I started with the premise that the baby boomer generation is historically unique. I mean, we see this is the first generation identified by the US Census. It’s like the only generation that is officially designated as such by the Census. And it looms large in our current understanding of postwar American history. So simply starting with the fact that there are a lot of baby boomers can’t explain a lot of the variation, I would say, at a very high level between the emphasis on youth culture in the 60s and 70s. And moving on to a kind of mature business, middle aged culture in the 80s and 90s. And now, the some cases Jera to kradic culture we’re observing in in Washington with the oldest president, oldest Congress in history. So the idea of ballasts, I think, helps explain the role that boomers have played in American politics and culture. So balance is something that’s designed to keep a default steady, right? So 100, Bloom could go sailing into the sky. In the absence of ballast is the sandbags you see on the side. And of course, if there’s too much ballast, the hot air balloon can’t get off the ground. So thinking about demographic or generational weight, we see that the generational center of gravity for American politics and culture has moved along with this baby boomer generation, as they have aged. So this means that in some cases, our culture has been changing less quickly than it otherwise would. And presently, as the boomers are kind of at the top of the age distribution, they’re still running most of the major institutions, Congress especially. And as a result, I think this is putting some tension on the rest of younger generations, who would like to change things and like to, like reshape the world in their own image as every generation wants to and they’re a bit frustrated that they’re unable to do so because of the demographic wave of this Boomer bounce.

Jenna Spinelle
So let’s talk more about the media. This is another big component in your book.

Kevin Munger
I mean, the US is a very large country and how people live. And so to the extent that people have a shared experience, it is because of shared media consumption. Right. So I think we can start telling the story about the coherence of the boomer generation, as such. Yes, through large scale events, like Vietnam, war, college protests, this kind of thing, but also through the rise of television as a medium technology. So they were the first generation to be raised by television and to spend a large number of their youth and adolescents consuming TV. This constituted a shared cultural background that they could use to construct a shared identity. So I think that younger generations are similarly basing their identity on the media they consume. I think, of course, that compared to the days of broadcast television, when there are three to five channels, the diversity of media options facing Gen Z, and millennials is quite a bit higher. And so there’s less coherence on this dimension, at least they’re not watching exactly the same thing. But the kinds of things they’re watching and the kind of language that this media uses is certainly a source of generational notification. So there is currently a very large divide, even this current period between the types of media that the young and the old consume. So cable technology, cable to cable television, is still I think the most important media technology in American politics is overwhelmingly the domain of the old. So the average viewership for these shows, and you can, if you watch them, you can see based on the advertisements they run, right, so they’re selling ads, I watched jeopardy as well. And the ads are for retirement funds, and therefore, life insurance, and therefore, I mean, buying gold. And there’s a lot of political ads as well. Right. So this correlates to the general interest in politics being considerably higher among the baby boomers than among younger generations. So in contrast, millennials, Gen Z in their consuming political media, much more likely to say that social media is the main place that they get political news information from. And that could mean a whole lot of different things, right? For example, the types of issues that really appeal to the young and the old and but are covered in the media they consume can be really quite distinct.

Jenna Spinelle
Right. And so, you know, among millennials, and Gen Z, you were just talking about this, there’s this big divide, and just in terms of the sheer number of media, media personalities, media outlets, that that are available to be consumed. There’s any number of YouTube channels and individual influencers and Substack, newsletters and podcasts, and you’re all the all the rest of it. And I wonder to what extent, this diversity of available options is, is preventing these generations from forming that more cohesive identity that you articulated among the boomers and to what extent you see that as problematic moving forward.

Kevin Munger
I do think that the just general experience of a Twitter feed or Instagram feed is a kind of similarity, even if the content is not the same. The basic framework through which younger generations experienced the world on these platforms is a shared location, at least. So that is something I would say, this is very much unsettled, right. So generational identification tends to get stronger as people get older, all kinds of identification do so. But I would say it’s an open question. But I think that the younger generations are more diverse on a lot of dimensions. So it makes it somewhat difficult to tease out what is causing the relative fragmentation. So clearly, the younger generations are much more racially diverse than are the baby boomers. If anything, the baby boomers are the whitest generation in history. So this is specifically because of patterns in US immigration policy. So during the early parts of the 20th century, and the just like a romanticized period of Ellis Island, immigration on the West Coast, right. There’s a lot of immigrants who are coming to this country during that time period. And so the percentage of foreign born is very high, but then that Change the immigration policy largely because of xenophobia, World War Two, and it remains very low such that when the boomers are being born, that’s kind of the low point of immigration to the United States in the 20th century. And then there is the process by which certain ethnic groups become a de racialized. So that is, the concept of the category of whiteness expands, right. So, during the early 20th century, groups like Irish, Italian, Jewish immigrants were racialized that is, they were considered an other group, who were not part of the mainstream white American society. And then throughout the 20th century, they became the racialized and they became life. And I guess that’s a steam I have come back to the book to a lot is that mid war, the mid century America, postwar America and the baby boomers are for my generation and sort of everyone alive today, our conception of what normal is, and this is actually a consequence of the demographic weight of the baby boomers like their experience, because there’s so many of them, and they’re so powerful has come to be seen as the default experience for Americans,

Jenna Spinelle
As you said, we have this gerontocracy In some ways with you know, all all three branches of government that the sort of leadership is very old in their 70s, or, you know, even people who are older in some cases, but you also look at when this this, of course, you know, prevents younger people from running for office in in some ways, but you do look at people like AOC and Madison Cawthorn, who have kind of bucked this trend on you as we think about they have they have a strong social media presence and really made a name running on the extreme ends of their parties. Do you is this what people from the millennial and Gen Z generations need to do to be successful? And to, you know, get breaks through this this Boomer ballasts? Or do you expect that we might see more of these types of candidates moving forward?

Kevin Munger
So this is a big point of tension, right. So the similar to the housing situation. So I think it’s helpful to characterize certain institutions which are more or less zero sum, right? So housing, it’s not really a zero sum. But it’s not that elastic that we haven’t really started to build as many houses as we need. And so there really is a situation where, when a baby boomer has been living in this house for 40 years leaves is just one other millennial or other younger generation who gets to have that house. And that’s the case for House seats as well. So seats in the House are entirely inelastic, there’s a specific fixed number of them. And so the fact that there have been such a large cohort of people who have been serving together for so long, and the incumbency advantages means that there are just naturally going to be fewer millennials who get to serve in Congress. And I think this problem is exacerbated by our two party system, the two party system being downstream of our electoral institutions. And I think we can see this through comparisons to other democracies. So most democracies have different electoral institutions that we do, like the key ones being a non single member with district and non winner take all voting. So you have a parliamentary system such that if you get 20% of the vote in the country, you get more or less 20% of the seats in the Congress to the legislature. So this means that in Europe and parts of Latin America, we’re seeing explicit youth focused parties, so parties where they really care about environmental issues. But then other issues that are related to millennials in those countries are also reflected. And maybe even more importantly, for this aspect of the story, they are able to begin to develop a cohort of politicians and political activists. And then once you get a few seats in parliament, then you’re able to have a platform to broadcast your message. And this is the kind of virtuous cycle where you get a toehold and then you can start to attract more members and develop a larger base of activists and donors and a higher quality candidate pool. And so in contrast, in the US, we only have a two parties and so for millennials to make inroads to Congress, they either have to work entirely within the system and play by the rules of the party establishment, which in many cases can take a very long time to work yourself into a position where they can replace a Baby Boomer who who wants to leave, or they can adopt these outside of the strategies that we see from people like AOC in medicine, Katherine, and I think the thing that the those two have in common are the, the use of social media in a way that is relatable to millennial voters.

Jenna Spinelle
But at the same time, I think you also say that, you know, these, we have to, we have to learn how to use our communications technologies, all the all the, you know, social media and all the other things we have, rather than be used by it, that that reminds me of something that I say to my students, a lot of, you know, if you’re not paying for something, then you are the product right? I think that there’s there’s a lot of that going on. And so how does that challenge play into this this idea of really trying to build and you know, work from the local level up, you know, build these these coalition’s from the bottom up?

Kevin Munger
Yeah, so I think that social media can be pernicious in that it offers some illusions of influence, and particularly of power. Right. So there are a number of theorists who are coalescing around this idea that social media is kind of a steam valve by which people can feel as if they are acting in the world. But in fact, this might be distracting from the way in which power is actually wielded, which is developing durable, large scale. organizations, communities, groups that can act at, at scale, and over a long time and can plan and can execute strategic actions. So social media certainly allows people stir up energy attention, get people into the streets, even. But we see through many of these social media revolutions that have taken place around the world and social media protests, that once people get to the street, that’s the only tactic they have. And so this means that, for example, a well organized state, and all of the major states are well organized, can simply wait them out, right, they deploy their defense forces, they, you know, engaged in these police actions, and then, you know, a month pass too much tests. And it’s simply not possible for a social media driven movements to sustain energy for that long. And neither is it really possible for them to even make medium term strategic advances, right. So without a leader, for example, these these are often described as leaderless movements. And as if it was a good thing. But without a leader without a structure to think about strategy, and then actually bargain with the people in power, you’re unable to come up with some kind of compromise. In fact, the only thing that happens is, after a while people go home and people get arrested. And then maybe some things get torn down or some like this, but the fundamental structures are not actually worried by this, right. And so people were excited about the Arab Spring or whatever, like the early period of the social media movements, and it was effective for overthrowing some extremely outdated, obsolete regimes, but a modern sort of center of power is well organized. And they’re easily easily able to control and manage these kinds of social media driven movements.

Jenna Spinelle
So you know, the other thing that I’m thinking about here is that there’s also maybe this kind of not, not scolding, maybe, but just this attitude among boomers that, you know, millennials, Gen Z, you guys just need to like, figure it out. It’s not our fault that, you know, things haven’t really gone this way. Like you just you need to, you know, get off of social media and just figure it out, make things happen for yourself, just like they would perhaps argue that they did for themselves. So I guess I wonder what what you might say to that kind of response.

Kevin Munger
I’ve certainly experienced it on Twitter, from self identify boomers, and it’s certainly the case, right that boomers are not the majority of voters in the country. Right, but younger generations, clearly outnumber them. That’s that’s really right. Some odd perspective, I suppose that the baby boomers control the House and Senate to an unprecedented degree. They have held the United States presidency for 28 consecutive year, and they only lost it in 2020. To someone who is technically too old to be a boomer. So we clearly see in the demography of our elected officials, Stark inequalities, and so the fact is that younger generations vote at a lower rate than older generations do. And this age period cohort allows us to differentiate the relative impact of generations If it’s the case that there is a generational impact each generation votes at lower rates than the previous one. But age dominates that affects two, three noticeable degree. So the simple fact that there are a lot of old people now means that they are the ones who control American politics. And this problem becomes radically more severe when we look at campaign finance, right? Because you’re talking about inequality, inequality among the top 500 donors is ridiculous. In fact, they looked at the Liberals 40 donors and the top 40 donors to put up campaigns, campaign spending in general, the median age is over at. Right. And so insofar as we think that there’s too much money in American politics that is being spent by the extremely old, right, and so if that is actually a problem, which many people think it is, the fact that the people who are calling the shots, you know, are actually really very far from, from young people on a lot of issues, makes it a big problem for young people who are trying to change.

Jenna Spinelle
Well, Kevin, we’ve covered a lot of ground here. And I hope that folks will pick up your book generation gap to dive deeper into to some of these insights and some of these arguments. But as as a last question here, What do you hope boomers take from your book? And what do you hope that millennials or members of Gen Z take from the book?

Kevin Munger
Sure. I mean, I think the big thing for boomers is realizing how much the world has changed. And so on this point, I’m actually quite sympathetic. I think that in general, let’s say American culture, and American, like the economy doesn’t really value older people, right. So the ideology of progress that we share doesn’t have a lot of use for people who cannot contribute economically. And so the fact is that we have this large cohort of people who a lot of people present now, and who are somewhat alienated from contemporary culture and society, but didn’t necessarily do anything wrong themselves. They just played by the rules, they what they felt was right. And now they’re in this position where they’re sort of under attack. And so I think that’s not a good place to be. But I think that the kind of a point where some compromise might be reached, is just realizing how much the world has changed. I think just looking at the demographics is stark story, right. And so there is a bit of whiplash going on. But we have to move past this idea of the boomer experience as being the default or normal on basically every dimension, and come to appreciate that the world really has changed. And that was like, in some ways, the kind of golden age of shared prosperity and growth, at least for white Americans, one that is likely never to return and is also somewhat unprecedented in a comparative analysis of the world. So I think that wider perspective should help baby boomers come to appreciate their place in society debt, and toward younger generation idea. I think there’s something to be said for the idea of getting off social media, right. So this does seem to be a significant problem for the growth of like genuine democratic power in the country. And so just sort of a kind of new thing that’s come along. And we don’t really know what it does yet. So I think that the faith in this entertainment technology that is optimized for selling ads to produce good democratic outcomes is a bit silly. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be useful, just that the main way that democratic power operates is still the same as it was organizing political parties and actually thinking about

Jenna Spinelle
Well, we will leave it there. Kevin Munger, thank you so much for joining us today.

Kevin Munger
Thank you. It’s been it’s been a great conversation. Appreciate it.

Candis Watts Smith
Thank you, Jenna, for that great interview with Kevin, one of the things that stuck out to me is that, you know, the United States is basically a gerontocracy. It’s, you know, quite elderly average age and Congress

Chris Beem
And oldest in history. That’s what Kevin says,

Candis Watts Smith
Yeah, history amidst the most kind of most important revolution and a lot of things right, like in communication and the problems that we’re trying to solve that we’re facing. You know, when the first boomers were born, the average life expectancy was about 63 years old today, boomers can expect to live to about 79. So Biden is 72.

Chris Beem
That’s when when they’re born by the time they get to be 65. If they get to be 65. Their life’s their longevity is decades. Yeah,

Candis Watts Smith
Yes. Nancy Pelosi is 82 Mitch McConnell a At Chuck Schumer 71 Kamala Harris is the youngest at 57. She’s born in the last year of the boomers. But you know, I think one of the kind of ironies about this whole thing is that, you know, people were trying to get RBG, to retire so that Obama could replace her with someone who was younger. And of course, like the requests was about, like ideological consistency on the Supreme Court. But underlying the assumption is that, like, it’s important for older people to move away so that they can be so that those positions can be replaced with younger folks, new ideas, and even if ideological share ideas, ideological stripes, maybe there are new ideas under those umbrellas, but we’re not seeing that. And our you know, nation’s legislature, and, you know, this is becoming increasingly problematic. That’s illustrated by the tensions, the debates around climate change around college debt, around social security, around gun violence,

Chris Beem
And the longer we delay on these issues, not only do we have the issue, like the fact of the problem getting worse, you know, especially with regards to climate change, and housing shortages and things like that, but you also have growing resentment among the people who know they’re going to have these effects having these effects and going to live through these effects. And yet, don’t have a say about it. So so you can, you can just see, or you can predict that when this, if it doesn’t move, if people don’t move off the stage, gracefully, then it’s going to be likely that when they do move off the stage, on grace as gracefully, there, there’s going to be a reaction.

Candis Watts Smith
So you know, there’s, there’s this tons of research that shows that older people tend to vote more than younger people, right. And there are a number of reasons for that. But one of the reasons is because voting is made difficult for people who are highly transitory, right, or, you know, we think about the power of incumbency, you know, just name recognition. And having been there gives you a lot of staying power, I mean, you can see the incumbency rate is, you know, in the 90%, or something like that. So, we also have a situation where, as you mentioned before, there’s been a particular confluence of circumstances that allowed Baby Boomers to gain, you know, both political power, but also economic power, and cultural power, cultural power, but they, but, you know, power breeds power. And so, you know, they are, have also like, worked to set up institutions that make it difficult for power to be, you know, contested, right.

Chris Beem
And the other thing that I, that I want to say about this whole issue of, of electoral politics is, you know, he mentions that, because we are a winner take all system, that’s another reason why a dominant generation is, so, it’s so easy for them to stay in power, and it’s so hard for a competing generation, to come to, you know, to actually win seats. And, again, to develop these skills, networks, visibility, that enables it to compete. And, you know, he says, in the rest of the first world, rest of the democracies in the world, this isn’t this isn’t happening, there are green parties that are that are run, or at least, you know, prevailingly associated with young people, not boomers. But because we don’t have we only have two parties, there’s only you know, there’s only so much you can do to develop these skills and develop these this standing politically.

Candis Watts Smith
And the point that he brings up about, you know, if we have proportional representation, for example, then we would have room for more people to voice a array of different, you know, you know, means to get into politics. I think that’s, I think that’s absolutely right. And I think that we can see in many ways, how are ya how the how the rules at hand, diminish opportunities for more people to have a say, at the kind of highest levels of politics.

Chris Beem
You know, I think that if you know, all the energy that was put around Bernie Sanders among young people, for example, if that same energy was put around local politics, and and school boards and other kind of entry points for For, for political power. I just think that’s, you know, irrespective of how difficult or unfair that challenge is, I don’t know what other alternative there is.

Candis Watts Smith
So we don’t disagree. And actually, I think if we look at local politics, we see that young people are game. I mean, I sometimes have my students look at the youngest mayor’s elected, they are young people. There are many, mayor’s under 30, you know, under 35. So, I don’t disagree with you that it’s important for people to galvanize politically, I think what it is important for us is to pinpoint the fact that there are barriers that could be lifted by people making, you know, different decisions. And those people are people who do not want to give up the power that they have. Right. Right. Given that the way that institutions are shaped, it would require them to retire. And, you know, at a, at a regular retirement age,

Chris Beem
Or, you know, I mean, there ought to be a point where I mean, what is Charles Grassley going to be? I mean, he’s 88 or something, and he’s running for reelection. I mean, you know, the only thing I could see changing the dynamics here is if something, if the in appropriateness of that becomes apparent to all and so then you see a kind of cultural backlash against the idea of putting an octogenarian in such a position of power.

Candis Watts Smith
I am not trying to be ageist here. I think it’s important for us to keep in mind that a representative democracy has to be representative on many dimensions, and one of the ones that we don’t have right now is on the dimension of generations.

Chris Beem
So and I think if you want to be a little ahead of the curve, in terms of where our politics where our society is going, this book really helps you do that. So thanks, Jenna for a really good interview, and Kevin Munger for for coming in telling us about all these things. So so I’m Chris Beem.

Candis Watts Smith
And I’m Candis Watts Smith with Democracy Works. Thanks for listening.

178 episodes