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Politics 2041 – Gen Y need Gen X to support their future

24 October 2016
A researcher speculates on future politics for the young

As part of the University of Sydney’s Innovation Week four of our researchers imagine our world in 25 years time. Here Professor Ariadne Vromen, from the Department of Government and International Relations, shares her vision.

We are at a generational crisis point. 

Today’s young people are the first generation to go backwards in terms of wealth and to be worse off than their parents’ generation. This has been a slow burn in Australia, but in the UK, USA and many countries in Europe they are facing stark inter-generational inequality, and lack access to work, job security, affordable housing, and accessible education.

In all these contexts young people are politically engaged in diverse ways – on social media, in the streets, within community-based organisations. They are not apathetic. Most tend to be progressive, rather than conservative. But very few see existing political institutions providing the answers to their concerns.

However I’ve found in my research that it is difficult to form a political constituency based on inequality, as young people are more likely to identity issues of gender, sexuality and race as problems that can be solved, rather than their own economic circumstances. I attribute this to a widely accepted discourse of individualised responsibility and meritocracy: ‘all you need to do is work harder and you will get the opportunities that you deserve’. This is patently not true. 

In terms of a voting bloc: young people aged 18-30 are only 20 percent of the electorate.

Unless older voters move beyond their own self- interest and see this as problem for future generations – their children, grandchildren, the future of society - then it will be hard to foster political change.

Broader consequences of continuing inequality are increasingly well-documented – political unrest and instability, stretching of health and welfare spending, increased incidence of mental health problems. Some of the less obvious side effects are delayed adulthood and independence for many young people who are forced to live with their parents indefinitely, and a subsequent drop in fertility rates (as is happening in Italy and Japan). 

Two visions of 2041:

Status quo gets worse.

Young people remain unheard and lack power to shape change.

Social media produces echo chambers for information and opinion sharing.

Political actors seeking a constituency heighten the existing divisions in society based on wealth, race, ethnicity, generation, geography and gender.

The big political challenges of our time: climate change; immigration; security; and economic and social inequality; remain unresolved.

OR

Young people are able to prosper in terms of both material goals (education, housing, work), and also in terms of their health and wellbeing.

Regular offline and online engagement and consultation with all members of the population. Politics is built on unity and hope not adversarial conflict, fear and division.

Shared goals of integration and respect for difference.

Citizens feel properly represented by, and trust, politicians, parties and advocacy groups. The democratic and technological tools exist to make this happen. 

What can any one of us could do right now to contribute to your ideal 2040 vision?

1. Listen to all young people and recognise their diversity

2  Work collaboratively across business, government, and community on the future of work. Young people, disproportionately experience the challenges of the digital gig economy, decline in blue-collar work, growing casualisation and insecurity. This can be counteracted by commitment to basic standards at work with the fostering of new forms of self-employment, or cooperatives

3. Care about the mental health and wellbeing of everyone around us, and demand better services

4. Work on market and regulatory solutions to increase access to affordable housing and better protect rights of renters

5. Expect more of our politicians, parties and advocacy organisations on the big issues of our time and intergenerational inequity

6. Fund organisations that advocate on behalf of disadvantaged young people and demand the reinstatement of a federal Minister for Youth

7. Recognise that education in schools, vocational education, and universities is a key enabler of equality – universities should especially care about positive social and economic change.