After reading this article this morning, I began to wonder about the effects of population growth and decline on democracy. Baby boomers represent a huge lump in the nation’s population. Because of their age and their having been brought up around the same time, they’ll have similar perspectives on issues — and thus, similar interests. A politician who addresses the concerns of the baby boomers garners the support of an unusually large demographic. Because of their limited time horizon — as in, their interest in the world after they die is sentimental at best — pandering to them often comes at the expense of younger demographics. I’m sure this has been asked before, but do population fluctuations represent a structural exploit in even the most robust democracy?
Democracy theoretically spreads the power of government over all those it affects, in the hopes that spreading out power will make it hard for any one voice to dictate the nation’s course. Even if you were able to forge a majority out of some specific interest group, that majority’s constituents would still share plenty with the rest of the populace: a common interest in the nation’s continued improvement, for example. Accountants might fight for disclosure reform, but they would do so knowing that there will always be accountants, so they want their laws to be somewhat sustainable. When dealing with age-based coalitions, that concern evaporates: the old have no incentive to care for a future they will not live to see.
Population bubbles, thus, exploit democracy’s core weakness — the many may strong-arm the few — but poison it further: once the many get old and die, the few will inherit the mess that the many had no reason to deal with. Consider Japan’s aging population and its crusty government, or Europe’s similar predicament, or our own. Do the old represent democracy’s fatal flaw?