Monday, July 06, 2009

Against Demeny voting

Over on Red Alert, Phil Twyford considers the problem of intergeneration equity raised by National's suspension of contributions to the Cullen fund, and floats a solution: Demeny voting - that is, giving parents the right to vote on behalf of their children.

Cue predictable outrage, including some from DPF which confirms his retreat into a parody of thrusting Thatcherism.

But this idea is actually consistent with the moral basis of democracy in the moral equality of all people. Those children have interests, which are no less important than anybody else's. Those interests should therefore be counted. In practice, this principle runs up against practicality: children are usually unable to express their interests clearly, though this could (and arguably should) also be seen as a failure of adults to listen to children when they say what their interests are (I'm not interested in the argument that children lack information to judge their own interests because a) its solvable by education; and b) we would never accept that as a reason for denying the franchise to an adult).

Demeny's solution is to let parents exercise their children's vote, on the basis that they are the best judges of their interests. But the danger here is that it would simply see the interests of children conflated with and supplanted by the interests of their parents, and those policies which see parents getting tax cuts while their children are burdened with debt giving a false cloak of consent. This is exactly why liberals cling so tightly to the principle that people are the best judges of their own interests, and reject second-guessing and appeals to "false consciousness". In such circumstances it seems better to have no-one pretend to speak for you than to have them speak falsely "on your behalf" and imply your consent.

But the most telling rebuttal comes from Graeme Edgeler:

Would Kate Sheppard had accepted that an interim solution to women being denied the vote would have been to accept that men with wives would get a second vote?
The answer, of course, is a resounding "no", for exactly the reasons I express above.

So what should we do? As I've said before, I think the answer is to lower the voting age. Not everyone will count, but more will. And its a better solution than having people falsely pretending to speak for others.