American Gerontocracy, Explained

by Kevin Munger on January 5, 2024

2024 is here, the year of the election. As the world begins to tune in to the greatest show on X, the question on everyone’s lips is:

Why the hell is everybody so old??

In the summer of 2022, I published a book predicting this:

elite electoral politics will see a clear and extremely high-profile generational turning point in 2024. President Joe Biden begins his term as the oldest President in history; in 2024, he will be eighty-two years old. He at one point indicated that he intends to serve as a “transition” President, and that he might be the first President to decline to seek re-election in decades. If he does run, his advanced age will be a central issue throughout the campaign.

First, the facts: in 2024, either Trump or Biden would be the oldest person to win a presidential election. We have the second-oldest House in history (after 2020-2022), and the oldest Senate. A full 2/3 of the Senate are Baby Boomers!

Not only is the age distribution of US politicians an outlier compared to our past—we also have the oldest politicians of any developed democracy. And not just the politicians, but the voters, too: more Americans will turn 65 years old in 2024 than ever before—and given macro-trends in demography, maybe than ever again.

The approach I take in the book is very different from the rest of my research. In contrast to a tightly-controlled experiment, analyzing phenomena of this scope does not allow for neat causal explanations. The “temporal validity” issues that arise when studying social media are because they change too quickly; here, the problem is more “temporal illegibility,” the inability of our preferred tools to register “causes” that unfold over the course of decades.

Paul Pierson’s excellent book Politics in Time makes this point in excruciating detail. The research methods in vogue in quantitative political science (the ones I tend to use!) are like the vision of the Tyrannosaurus Rex from Jurassic Park: they can only detect movement, at the speeds typical of medium-sized mammals.



A common exercise in research design classes is to discuss the “ideal experiment” to study a given question. If money, power and ethics were no constraint, what experiment would you run? It’s useful, thinking about what it would mean to randomly assign one state to only broadcast Fox News and another state only MSNBC. But the very idea of an experiment breaks down at the scale of generational politics.

It doesn’t even make sense to think about randomizing, say, “generation size” to see how much that causes generational power when a given cohort turns 65. Modifying society at that temporal scale means that there’s nothing left when the experiment is over, no fixed point or control group against which to compare the results. (Footnote 1 for more)

The inability to conceive of an ideal experiment suggests that the relevant question is ill-posed. When I talk about “Boomer Ballast,” the outsized power wielded by this generation in the 2010s and 2020s, people sometimes ask: “how much of this is just because there were so many of them born at the same time?”

This question is unanswerable and therefore, in my view, meaningless. Just as the speed of social media makes “ceteris paribus” (all else equal) comparisons impossible, so does the speed of generations vizaviz the temporality of the human life cycle, the age of the country, etc.

And on the “just because” part. I’ve found that this is a common response to the presentation of a descriptive research result: people chalk it up to the first causal mechanism that pops into their head, in a dramatic inversion of the usual skepticism applied to causal claims.

Both this issue and the T.Rex-vision problem are legacies of the misapplication of Hume’s model of causality, itself a more narrow definition than Aristotle’s…but back to Boomer Ballast.



The challenge of differentiating the effects of age, time period, and cohort (the “APC” problem) is a statistical nightmare—especially because the data we have access generally only goes back a few decades. But the premise of the problem is that, yes, all three of age, period and cohort have effects…so by definition, no effect is just because of any one individual cause.

That’s why I don’t really care about resolving the APC problem. My claim is that a confluence of largely unrelated factors will cause generational conflict to become a central cleavage in US politics in the 2020s. This means holding fixed the time Period of analysis and treating Age (there are a lot of old people) and Cohort (those old people are Baby Boomers) as two distinct types of causes of the present generational conflict.

The politics of generations is affected by raw demography, growing longevity, and unequal power accumulation alongside the rapid evolution of communication technology and the development of online communities that enable younger generations to ignore geography and the need to gain knowledge from elders. The two main “causes” are the accumulated power of the Boomer generation and the information technology revolution; the tension between these causes is the main “effect,” generational conflict, played out in the realms of politics and culture.

This conflict has a zero-sum dimension, as younger and older generations jostle over a fixed fiscal budget, with mutually exclusive preferences. Boomers want more money for Medicare and Social Security; Millennials and Gen Z want money for student loan debt forgiveness and climate change amelioration. But in another important sense, the tension between Boomer Ballast and the internet revolution is negative-sum, and potentially even more concerning for the viability of the United States as a system. This insight comes from Karl Deutsch’s classic 1963 book The Nerves of Government, which conceives of government through the analogic lens of a brain—or, updated to today, as a computer.

The book is broadly concerned with communication, the way that information flows from citizens to the government, within the government, and then back to the citizens in a circularly causal feedback loop. In contrast to many of the broad accounts of government—before or since—Deutsch conceives of government as cybernetic, and thus primarily concerned with adapting to a perpetually changing environment. This dynamism produces an unresolvable tension; between the openness to new information required to adapt, on one hand, and the commitment of societal resources required to address present problems:

“In addition to being invented and recognized, new solutions and policies must be acted on, if they are to be effective. Material resources must be committed to them, as well as manpower and attention. All this can be done only to the extent that uncommitted resources are available within the system” (p164).

Applying Deutsch’s framework to the biological realities of the human life cycle, we see that our society has an unusual degree of resources committed. The government cannot change the shape of the demographic pyramid, except decades in advance. Boomer Ballast means that a disproportionate amount of our economic, social and political human capital is invested in an illiquid response to the postwar, 20th century environment. Our demographic structure, compounded by our economic fortunes, granted us an unusually high degree of adaptability. And we flourished.

But the Boom in adaptability led naturally to a bust. In normal circumstances, this would still entail some future cost, as we had fewer untapped resources to devote to new problems. Our society is like a sluggish laptop with too many browser tabs open, too many resources devoted to maintaining things as they are, to be able to do new things quickly.

The advent of the internet compounds the problem of our present over-commitment. It will take decades for the full implications of the internet and related technologies to filter through and fundamentally reshape human society, but Boomer Ballast means that this process is stunted in the contemporary United States.

To deploy new “solutions and policies” suited for the digital age, we will need to move beyond the inherited structures of the 20th century. The biological passing of the Boomer generation is inevitable, but the organizations and structures the Boomers built or reinforced will long outlive them.

Deutsch sees this as an inevitable challenge facing societies that hope to thrive beyond a single human lifespan, and he warns us to “avoid the idolization of ephemeral institutions”—or, in DJ Khalid’s terms, The First Amendment is Suffering From Success. We must be willing to acknowledge that institutions designed for past times and past generations cannot possibly take advantage of contemporary technology and the human social structures it makes possible.

And we must also ensure that the conditions are right for new generations to build institutions in their place. At the risk of getting too cybernetics-y, a final quote from Deutsch:

The demobilization of fixed subassemblies, pathways or routines may thus itself be creative or pathological. It is creative when it is accompanied by a diffusion of basic resources and, consequently, by an increase in the possible ranges of new connections, new intakes, and new recombinations. In organizations or societies the breaking of the cake of custom is creative if individuals are not merely set free from old restraints but if they are at the same time rendered more capable of communicating and cooperating with the world in which they live. In the absence of these conditions there may be genuine regression (p171).


Genuine regression. Flusser’s fall into unconscious functioning is the result of being surrounded by technical images we cannot understand or control. Deutsch argues that a similar result occurs when individuals who are set free from “the cake of custom” are not simultaneously empowered to communicate and cooperate with the world.

That’s an excellent description of what’s happening today: a fully armed and operational internet/social media/smartphone stack, deployed to the majority of humans in under a decade, is reshaping societies, economies, cultures, families. But because this “freedom” comes without increased capacities, it produces mostly meaninglessness, alienation and vitriol. And Boomer Ballast makes the problem much worse.

Am I able to provide maximally rigorous statistical evidence for the previous paragraph? No, sorry, we live in a fallen world, and the position that we can know nothing unless proven the highest standards of rigor is cheap positivist nihilism. My book triangulates various kinds of evidence towards this central claim, and history (rather than contemporaneous peer reviewers) is the only real judge of the value of my perspective.

And so far, in my humble opinion, so good—2024 will be the year that Boomer Ballast becomes impossible to ignore. The demographic structure of the United States is as much a political institution as are presidential primaries, and it deserves full consideration by political scientists as such.

Much more, dear reader, if you buy my book.

Generation Gap

Footnote 1:

Early-career John Dewey, when confronted with the epistemic challenges to science/democracy posed by Walter Lippmann, considers biting this bullet: he sees the Soviets as having an advantage over democracies because they are actually able to conduct five-year-long experiments. (They weren’t, actually, but Chinese cybernetics comes much closer to fulfilling this vision, of crossing the river by feeling the stones.)

Eventually he realizes that he cares more about democracy as creative freedom than he does about scientific certainty—a decision with which I agree. Of course, contemporary scholars of Dewey are frustrated by the imprecision of his use of terms like “democracy” and “science,” but that’s sort of begging the question.



both sides do it 01.05.24 at 7:10 pm

I might be missing the thrust of your argument, but it seems to leave out a big political economic dynamic

Democrats are really old, but Republicans are not; avg age of Dems in power has skyrocketed while GOP has remained relatively constant

This is at the same time that the system is broadly losing legitimacy, facing crises along most axes, etc

The obvious explanation is that capital, broadly (and, more narrowly, the overlapping sources of money that contribute to both parties) can “trust” young Republicans but can’t trust young Democrats

This dynamic isn’t specific to capital, either, as frex the more brittle the Soviet Union became the more its levers of power had to be controlled by its geezers in order to function

It seems like any analysis of generational cohort power within the US has to take this into account


LT 01.05.24 at 10:16 pm

@both sides do it

I am not sure where you are getting this statistics from : in Congress, Republicans and Democrats have sensibly the same age (with a two-years difference in Congress (56 (R) to 59 (D)) between the two, and 3 years in the Senate (which undoubtedly diminished since following the death of Diane Feinstein). You might mean governors, or members of the cabinet, or anything else but I very much doubt we will find such a difference they will really support your reasoning of “Democrats are really old, Repubs are not” and the subsequent capital/conspiracy argument.


Alex SL 01.05.24 at 11:25 pm

Regarding the attempt to understand generational conflict and gerontocracy, a useful approach might be to compare with other countries. There are many western countries with a similar population pyramid. Analysing these issues statistically is not my field, so I am merely going off what I see in the news about how different countries are going, but it occurs to me that while many countries see a similar political realignment from petty bourgeois right versus labour movement left to old/uneducated/rural/nativist versus young/educated/urban/mobile, and sometimes the realignment does result in really bad decisions (Brexit), they generally don’t have gerontocracies, as pointed out in the OP itself. That entire line of investigation therefore seems fruitless to me right out of the gate; the dominance of octogenarians among top politicians must have US-specific, institutional reasons instead of being about demography, growing longevity, or change in communication technology, because those are widespread.

Regarding resources committed, I find it extremely difficult to believe that the USA couldn’t, if it wanted, provide free tertiary education AND Social Security. Much poorer nations manage to do that, after all. I also do not understand the argumentation here at all – “But the Boom in adaptability led naturally to a bust” seems to be doing a lot of work and could perhaps have used some kind of explanatory detail. The frequently seen analogy of a generation that benefited from cheap education and subsidised housing “pulling up the ladder behind themselves” make more sense to me than the claim that resources are simply lacking.

Finally, as both sides do it points out, it is easy to see that Republicans are better at succession planning than Democrats. Even I, from far outside the USA, I can easily list off various younger GOP politicians who are frequently featured in the media, who are given prestigious positions, and who are prominent speakers at right-wing events. They are ready in the wings for when Trump is gone. But I have absolutely no clue who has been built up as the next generation on the Dem side. The only prominent young politicians who come to mind are AOC and two or three people with similar profile, and they are best known for being kept out of prestigious office and being regarded with suspicion by Dem leadership.

There must be something specifically American that leads to the gerontocracy (even only in the sense of Republican voters being so excited about Trump specifically instead of younger alternatives with effectively the same politics), and there must be something dysfunctional specifically about Democratic party succession planning.


hix 01.05.24 at 11:32 pm

Money? Seems to me the most straightforward aspect. US politicians need to be rich themselves and appeal to other rich people as a core competency. And capital tends to increase a lot over time at the upper spheres until you die.


steven t johnson 01.06.24 at 12:49 am

“… information flows from citizens to the government, within the government, and then back to the citizens in a circularly causal feedback loop.” So far as I can tell, this does not describe the US political system, unless “citizen” is severely qualified as, large donor in the political process. And it would help if “information” was accompanied by money. The government collects information and revenue (money) from the population at large, restricts information dissemination from the public at large to the top office holders as part of the budgeting process (distribution of money) then collects information and notes changes in revenue. Factional strife has been reconciled by formal rituals called elections.

The notion of a fixed fiscal budget is a huge restriction, meaning the notion of generational conflict is something of an artifact designed for PR purposes rather than a genuine thing, I suspect. (John Quiggin?)

You get ideas by analogy but you argue by evidence, including evidence for alternatives explanations. The notion of government as a brain or a computer program doesn’t seem promising even for generating ideas. For one thing I don’t think brains and computer programs are actually similar to each other. For another, I don’t think there is any meaningful separation of hardware, software and programmer, which really leaves that analogy totally confusing to me. Harking back to the older version, brains are individual not collective, it’s the same set of problems as thinking of society as a body with a developmental life cycle.

The problem the analogy is to solve could be due to the increasing restrictions on the election process, where unwelcome surprises from mass voting become less and less feasible . Political engineering are something like FX in a movie, they can be fairly reliably bought, which means big budget movies, like big budget candidates, usually get good box office. Which is to say, the system is ever more rigged in favor of incumbents, who naturally age in place. The Republicans are taking more offices as the large donors increasingly favor them. The Democratic Party is falling out of favor with the owners and is more or less stuck with Biden because it would very likely split the party. I think the No Labels movement is an attempt to split the national large donor base of the Democrats early in the money vote part of the elections.

Nor does it help when the metaphors themselves are not taken seriously. The Chinese expression about crossing the river feeling for the stones is a metaphor where the goal is predetermined but the path is not. It is not even clear whether the metaphor allows backing up and starting again (I strongly suspect not.) The notion of a feedback process changing the goals is ruled out, even though new information about unexpected consequences would require this! Unless policy success is to be measured by a simple numerical matrix and multiple policy goals are consistently transitive, maybe.


Alan 01.06.24 at 5:31 am

What is the difference between the US and other democracies? The amount of money spent on elections. It is obscene. Who has the money? The old. Simples.


John Q 01.06.24 at 7:00 am

Australia has the opposite problem. Political positions seen as a stepping stone to a more lucrative career in finance or business, where favours delivered in office can be cashed out. The result is lots of young politicans who have never had a real job, going straight from university into political staffer or (on the Labor side) union positions then getting selected as candidates.


J-D 01.06.24 at 7:23 am

I noticed something which interests me (even if it may not interest anybody else). This–

First, the facts: in 2024, either Trump or Biden would be the oldest person to win a presidential election. We have the second-oldest House in history (after 2020-2022), and the oldest Senate.

–is constructed with references to age. Then there’s a switch to a cohort reference–

A full 2/3 of the Senate are Baby Boomers!

–where there could just as easily have been another age reference (‘A full 2/3 of the Senate are over 60!’)

I wonder why this switch was made. To me, ‘over 60’ is a more immediately evocative and resonant description than ‘Baby Boomer’, but maybe that’s just me.


Stephen J 01.06.24 at 7:25 am

What is the role of gerrymandering? I get the impression as a foreigner that gerrymandering is far more extreme in the US than other democracies. Incumbency is already an advantage, but incumbency and a gerrymander together might allow for unusually long political careers, with politicians aging in place as it were.


Scott P. 01.06.24 at 3:15 pm

But I have absolutely no clue who has been built up as the next generation on the Dem side. The only prominent young politicians who come to mind are AOC and two or three people with similar profile, and they are best known for being kept out of prestigious office and being regarded with suspicion by Dem leadership.

That’s because the typical leap in US politics is from state-level office to the Presidency or Cabinet, not from Congress. So you need to know the state-level up-and-comers. A seat in the House or Senate is something of a dead end, unless you go back to state office.


Ben D. 01.06.24 at 5:32 pm

This conflict has a zero-sum dimension, as younger and older generations jostle over a fixed fiscal budget, with mutually exclusive preferences. Boomers want more money for Medicare and Social Security; Millennials and Gen Z want money for student loan debt forgiveness and climate change amelioration.

I can’t actually think of anyone who wants to cut Social Security to fund student loan forgiveness, or vice versa; the people who want to go big want to go big on everything. So it’s hard not to see this line as a rhetoric-driven hallucination. Priorities differ generationally, surely, but they don’t transmute into ‘mutually exclusive preferences’ because the federal budget is not, in fact, fixed.


hix 01.07.24 at 1:57 am

Maybe some explanation regarding “US politicians need to be rich”. The wildly known aspect is the expensive personalised media based campaigning, including the throwing dirt at your opponent aspect. Another less known one is that parliamentarians need expensive staff paid out of their own pocket to a much larger extent than in typical parliamentary democracies to be effective.

Isn’t there also still some kind of system that strongly favours long time congress members when it comes to the assignment of important committee positions (which again are more important in the US house than in most other democracies)? Or was that abolished?


J-D 01.07.24 at 3:56 am

What is the role of gerrymandering? I get the impression as a foreigner that gerrymandering is far more extreme in the US than other democracies. Incumbency is already an advantage, but incumbency and a gerrymander together might allow for unusually long political careers, with politicians aging in place as it were.

Currently many of the seats in the US House of Representatives are gerrymandered. However, gerrymandering isn’t relevant to the US Senate: the boundaries of the States don’t change.

That’s because the typical leap in US politics is from state-level office to the Presidency or Cabinet, not from Congress. So you need to know the state-level up-and-comers. A seat in the House or Senate is something of a dead end, unless you go back to state office.

How many examples have you looked at? John F Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, George HW Bush, Barack Obama, and Joe Biden were all in Congress before becoming President; Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W Bush were State Governors before becoming President. That doesn’t seem like a great disparity. In the current Cabinet, out of fifteen heads of executive departments, only two (Deb Haaland and Marcia Fudge) have previous experience in Congress, but then only three (Tom Vilsack, Gina Raimondo, and Jennifer Granholm) were previously State Governors, which also doesn’t seem like a great disparity.


engels 01.07.24 at 2:12 pm

Has anyone ever advanced a game theory style explanation for older voters’ disproportionate bargaining power based on their psychological inflexibility?


X marks the spot 01.07.24 at 4:13 pm

I, a non-Boomer, wanted to buy your book to read on my upcoming plane ride. So I went to Amazon to purchase a kindle copy. Not available. Only options are paperback or (lol) hardback. Oh well.


steven t johnson 01.07.24 at 4:19 pm

hix@4 and alan@6 are correct that the skewed age distribution of wealth matters. There isn’t a direct correlation though because politicians are best thought of as employees. The rich who run as candidates have a mixed record of success. Bloomberg and Yang didn’t beat Biden. And rich independents are vanity candidates by and large. See the campaign record of Don Blankenship! Or even Ross Perot. Ambitious young people go where the money is. Increasingly that’s the Republican Party. (I have reservations about the notion of ambition as a virtue. The implication lots of young people have no ambition does not strike me as a sharp criticism.)

The Republican Party on the local and state level and national level is largely the In party, because the rich are turning more and more toward the fascist and cryptofascist politics of the Republican Party (that history began with “McCarthyism.”) That’s why you have the more youthful DeSantis or Haley or whomever. The Democratic Party is the Outs so they get fewer ambitious youth. The right-wingers have preached for years that intellectuals thirsty for power become socialists but everyone who really wants power sucks up to the boss. This point is relevant because the Overton Window is moving so that Democrats=socialists/communists….and of course the time-honored equation of socialists and fascists is still honored. As the Outs the Democratic Party on the local and state levels haven’t got the budget to buy the contracts of the promising young political athletes, so it’s Mets vs. Yankees as it was back in the day.

How is the Democratic Party still in play at all, especially (almost solely really?) on the national level, mainly senatorial and presidential? The answer I think is the difficulty of political engineering to fix elections (which is NOT exclusively falsifying the actual votes) when the scale is too large, i.e., Senate and Presidency mainly. That’s why voting is never on a holiday or even a weekend, to keep the votes smaller and more manageable. Structurally two parties provides the illusion of legitimacy, which is good enough for government work. That’s why loyal servants like Biden are so desperate for a responsible Republican Party.

The Constitution was designed to prevent mere majorities from ruling, lest it threaten property rights (yes, in people too but the Thirteenth Amendments didn’t change this anti-majoritarian feature.) So, yes, you would presumably think younger people would have a better chance of getting elected for promising something new. But again, politicians are best thought of as employees of the real citizens, the large donors. They don’t want something new, they want someone reliable. That means able to deliver, as well. In the seniority systems set up in Congress, the older the incumbent the more they can deliver because they are more senior. Robert C. Byrd of WV was openly defended as the guy who would have more clout than any possible successor, whether a younger Democrat or a Republican.

Stephen J.@9 asks about the role of gerrymandering. As long as you have formal elections, there are no guarantees. Given a large enough voter turnout, no gerrymander can suppress a majority. Without voter suppression, suppression of third parties by ballot laws, extended primaries to erect a financial hurdle, concentrated media (many localities effectively have no local media at all!) etc. gerrymandering cannot be the whole story. Also, gerrymandering to guarantee Black districts is regarded as perfectly acceptable, or desirable, or legally mandated. Black representatives can be herded into the Outs party though so this is more a system valve to relieve pressure, or so it seems to me.

Lastly, the universal animus of the media, which turned against Biden after Afghanistan debacle, means that Biden’s age and mental debility are universal stories. (This is a country where Wilson and Reagan were President till the end!) But Trump, who is nearly as old and far crazier than Biden on his worst day, gets a free ride. These things are not an accident. It’s not clear how much the determination that Democratic Party is a gerontocracy isn’t the charge, Biden is a gerontocrat!


hix 01.07.24 at 8:21 pm

There is a difference between American politicians need to be rich, and the candidate pool is the Forbes list. For German politicians, the politician salary still is more often than not the peak of their income, and it does matter compared to the inheritance. Things are getting worse, Friedrich Merz and his ongoing career is the most obvious example of that and money matters in many other ways shaping policy for the worse, but still, the US is a whole different universe.


Aardvark Cheeselog 01.08.24 at 3:08 pm

Applying Deutsch’s framework to the biological realities of the human life cycle, we see that our society has an unusual degree of resources committed.

Given that our society is what it is today largely because the owner class has been able to expropriate $0.90 out of every new dollar of economic productivity for the last 50 years, while also arranging to not pay any taxes on any of it, I have problems with this construction.

It’s not that we have an overcommitment of resources to obsolete purposes, it’s that we’ve allowed the State to be starved of the resources it needs to manage new challenges.


Kevin Munger 01.08.24 at 3:37 pm

To everyone convinced that boomer ballast in the US is “just because” of our campaign finance system:

The main point of the post is that no effect (at this scale) is “just because” of any one individual cause. I guess y’all disagree. But for a detailed look at the point, see this working paper:

And here is the link to the Kindle edition:


engels 01.09.24 at 1:58 pm

France seems to be headed in the opposite direction:


steven t johnson 01.09.24 at 4:45 pm

Kevin Munger@19 harks back to “boomer ballast” in denying the pushback as too simplistic to explain the gerontocracy and the clash of generations. Pursuing the fifth link in the OP on this, “…stability and speed are two sides of the same coin…” in the explication of ballast as a stabilizing force, hence the metaphor’s use here.

Again, it doesn’t help to use metaphors when they aren’t even read. Stability and speed are not two sides of the same coin, they are perhaps opposite ends of a spectrum. Or maybe you could even say they are interpenetrated opposites which mutually transform each other in the course of development, this dialectic being the essence of “ballast.” As is, the gist seems to be that ballast as such can be a necessary thing except when it’s old Boomers. I suppose this restates the premise but it’s not clarifying for me.

Reading on, “Traditional societies where nothing ever changes, where innovation is crushed underneath the weight of the past, eventually either implode or face destruction by more dynamic societies; too much ballast is a problem.” This view of the world as a war of sorts, where sexy (the youthful meaning of “dynamic”) people win and destroy the losers is popular. Again, this avoids fascist rhetoric about “decadence” and such.

But the idea that debt might be the weight seems to be literally inconceivable. The tacit premise is that all debts must be paid at compound interest. And modernizing means using social media, rather than reforming the economy. By the way, the notion that Trump won because of Twitter strikes me as revisionism, Trump won by getting free publicity from the traditional media. The notion later advanced that old people are uniquely vulnerable to nonsense on social media and don’t use social media seems to be more a symptom than a sound analysis. This aspect of cohort consciousness seems to display young people being victimized by “social media.” The notion that internet identities are relevant, real in any meaningful sense, is the alienation manufactured. Do young activists really want the old people dead? If so, that is atomization of the population.

Reading on, “The AARP’s publication remains the nation’s highest circulation magazine; the political focus of this media giant is to prevent even the faintest mention of reforming Social Security. This means that younger generations are inevitably left holding the bag.” Aside from younger generations somehow not including children, the simple truth is that all younger adults have always supported the old, as well as the sick and the missing children, and others. Now the notion that there will not be enough people to actually do the work of survival, grow enough food, keep the lights on, build homes and hospitals and schools, make clothing, teach children and treat the sick (which will at some point will include all the old too,) is highly unlikely. (Even the population removal thread acknowledges population isn’t declining that fast.) Now this isn’t the most extreme reactionary notion, after all the phrase “useless eaters” isn’t written down.

But the idea that FICA taxes being cut will free the virtuous young from oppression assumes that taxes are the oppression, not low wages and unemployment and high rents. I don’t think the numbers even add up. This premise is preposterous I think. Social Security can in principle always be paid for: Wages need only be high enough in sum for FICA to remit enough revenue. The underlying assumption that low wages are inevitable also strikes me as fundamentally reactionary, even if fascist rhetoric is eschewed.

The notion that there is a gerontocracy rather than a ruling class distinguished by property needs demonstrating. Therefore the whole general perspective where the masses are treated as the agents, and an irreconcilable conflict between young and old cohorts of the masses inevitably founders. As a thought experiment, consider the implicit remedy offered for “our” ills, young people taking over. Young billionaires and young millionaires and young unemployed and young part-time workers and young professors and young lawyers and young politicians and young mothers, united by the internet, will dynamically innovate so that “we” won’t be crushed by our enemies. I think any politics that unites “us” with billionaires is a futile class collaborationist politics.


Kevin Munger 01.09.24 at 8:47 pm

Thanks for the close reading — at this point, I hope you read the whole book! These points are explored in more detail there.

I agree w you that class analysis is useful point of view. I’m not saying generational analysis should replace it, but that it’s also a useful point of view — and now, in the US, more than previously or in other countries.

As I say…all humans are equal in expectation, but I am not equal to myself 10 years ago. Aging is a fundamental human dynamic. And older societies are importantly different from younger societies. The “ballast” metaphor is explicitly aimed at avoiding “young vs old” as an analytical frame, though I do believe that this is a large and growing cleavage in society at present. We all need to grapple with the fact that our society is an older one.


Tm 01.09.24 at 10:28 pm

Re Alex: Nobody seems to have mentioned that the US has a lower median age than most of its European peers, 38 years compared to 44 for Western Europe ( If anything, the US should be less gerontocratic. I would also like to compare the electoral turnout of the young generation between countries. I suspect the gap between young and old turnout is especially large in the US but don’t have data readily available.

Regarding the comparison between the parties, I observe that there isn’t really an obvious generational difference within the GOP. They are all equally reactionary.That also seems to be true of voters. Whereas young Democrats tend to be more progressive.


J-D 01.10.24 at 1:05 am

The “ballast” metaphor is explicitly aimed at avoiding “young vs old” as an analytical frame, though I do believe that this is a large and growing cleavage in society at present.

There is an important political difference between the young and the old as groups that has no relationship to any change that affects individuals as they age because the poor die young. No matter what the politics of any cohort is as a group, as that cohort ages the poorer members of it die off faster than the richer ones, so that its socioeconomic composition as a whole changes, with an inevitable and predictable effect on its politics.


eg 01.13.24 at 1:57 pm

I was recently struck that the US governing class increasingly resembles the roster atop the Kremlin at a Brezhnev era May Day parade. It’s interesting and valuable to read the analyses here of how this may have come to pass.


reason 01.13.24 at 3:43 pm

I just want to point and give a thumbs up to Ben D. @11 and Aardvard Cheeselog @18. And also note that a mention of the extraordinarily large part of the government budgets in the US devoted to various sorts of guard labour (Military, Police, Prisons).

But surely you have to discuss institutional features here, the US has for a “democracy” (and it only just qualifies) very odd institutional features. A highly politicized judicial system, first past the past voting and the consequent two party system, a relatively low fraction of electorates that are genuinely contested and acceptance of a level of corruption that makes being a politician a very lucrative career.


reason 01.13.24 at 3:44 pm

P.S. My first paragraph should end with “is missing”.

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