I’m taking a course on election law, and the professor mentioned a proposal today that I hadn’t heard about before. He said there’s a movement in Germany to propose a constitutional amendment that would give children the right to vote from birth. I thought he was pulling our leg at first, but listen to this segment on NPR. The idea is that parents (or principal care givers) would act as proxies for children by voting on their behalf. According to proponents, this would have two benefits. First, it would give politicians greater reason to care about family and children’s issues. Second, in an effort to correct for Germany’s declining birth rate and rapidly aging population, it would give people greater incentive to have more children. (A quick search turns up some other proposals of this kind floating around, from the sophomoric to the more considered (by Gillian Thomas at Demos) to the academic manifesto (by Duncan Lindsey at UCLA.)
I think the population growth rationale is very bad. There are lots of ways to provide incentives for population growth without altering the voting system. Some form of subsidy for having children seems like an obvious mechanism. It would certainly be a lot easier to retract a subsidy when the target population level is reached. Retracting the suffrage is notoriously difficult—and usually for good reason. This rationale also assumes, of course, that increasing population in Germany (or elsewhere, for that matter) is a good thing. Since I don’t know anything about German demographics, I’ll leave it up to someone else to pursue that line.
More generally, what about the argument that children lack adequate representation? I think this is probably right, but the institutional problems with proxy-voting seem insurmountable. There are principal-agent problems, incentives for strategic voting, and the more basic question of whether it’s fair to allocate proxy-votes in the first place. Still, the proposal raises some interesting questions about institutional solutions for problems of intergenerational justice. Place yourself in the original position and ask: if I didn’t know how old I would be when the veil is lifted, what principles of political representation would I favor? One-(adult) person, one vote?