Is voting an inherent right? Or is it something that should be “earned” with maturity?
I was scrolling through Twitter on Election Day afternoon when I came across Peter Schiff’s tweet, which I’ve screenshot above.
If you aren’t familiar with Schiff, he’s a popular gold bug, media commentator, and CEO of Euro Pacific Capital. He famously hates Bitcoin, considers all digital currencies Ponzi schemes, and is often regarded as an economic “doom and gloomer.”
He’s 59 years old, lives in Puerto Rico for the tax benefits, loves gold, has been warning of an imminent global economic collapse for almost two decades now, and favors fiscal conservatism.
He’s the quintessential Boomer’s Boomer.
I like Peter Schiff somewhat. I think he’s right on many things. Not Bitcoin. But I mostly agree with his overall ethos.
Which is why his tweet on voting yesterday afternoon got me thinking.
Admittedly, the knee-jerk response to his proposal to raise the voting age to 28 is a resounding “No!” It seems preposterous on its face. How dare you suggest taking the right to vote away from people who are old enough to join the military and die for their country.
You can drink at 21. You can sign up for six figures of student loan debt at 18, even if you’re going to a posh private art school to learn fingerpainting. You pay taxes even when you’re still a minor. You can sign business deals at 18.
So why should you not be able to vote starting at 18?
I can remember graduating high school in the thick of the 2000 presidential election, and actively looking forward to casting my first ballot. I even volunteered to work for the GOP on a street reconstruction project, as the convention was being held in Philadelphia, where I lived. The idea of being able to have even a very small say in who ran the government was an exciting prospect for me as a newly-minted adult.
Of course, that election became infamous for being undecided until December, hung up by “hanging chads” in Florida. George W. Bush slipped through with a razor-thin margin of victory, thanks in part to a Supreme Court ruling to stop the recount process. It was a cold-plunge initiation for me into the oftentimes crazy democratic process.
Schiff’s proposal may sound anti-democratic on its face. But I don’t think it’s that simple. It’s about applying more standards to a democratic practice that Schiff feels is sacred, beyond just the incidental component of age. You could argue it puts more of a premium on democracy. Something freely given is rarely valued as much as something earned, afterall.
We apply standards to nearly everything in life. You have to pass a test to obtain a driver’s license, and you must abide by the rules of the road if you intend to keep your license. You have to apply to college, and pass your classes if you expect to graduate. You have to show up to work on time and do the job if you want to stay employed.
So why not apply stricter standards to voting?
At its core is the idea that those with a bigger stake in society should have a bigger say in how it runs. Why should the middle-aged father or mother of two kids, who own a house, pay property taxes, work two jobs, have no greater say in who governs them than the 19-year-old unemployed college student living in their basement?
Schiff aticulates another angle to his argument here, in response to a tweet:
I disagree with Schiff’s assumption that older voters necessarily equal a better government. Some of the Founding Fathers were in their mid to late 20s and early 30s during the American Revolution. In fact, the average age of the delegates during the Constitutional Convention was 42. If anything, Schiff’s argument puts a premium on middle-age. Schiff, at age 59, inadvertantly undercuts his own age group.
Nor do I think that just because someone has kids or a mortgage that they’re more qualified to vote than someone who doesn’t. Much less that they’re more mature. There are plenty of dumb parents and irresponsible people who got conned into bad mortgages. And there are also plenty of saavy wise-beyond-their-years young people well under Schiff’s critical age of 28.
Schiff’s stance is likely a recipe for stagnation. But I’d be remiss not to point out that underlying his argument is the idea of wanting to filter out younger voters because so many of them vote in socialist policies that increase taxes on people like Schiff and workers (like myself) in general. Schiff’s proposal is more about trying to protect his wealth than in advocating some more pristine version of democracy.
And he’s not wrong about wanting to do that. As someone who spent years working in the harsh North Dakota oilfields to obtain some measure of financial freedom, I abhor the idea of a bunch of freeloaders coming along and helping themselves to my money out of some half-baked notion of “equity.”
But then again, it’s not really the young, socialist voters that are the biggest threat to an investor’s net worth. Bad policies by the Federal Reserve that caused it to print too much money, have now led to spiraling inflation, which has helped crater the stock market and economy. And I don’t see too many young faces sitting on that banking board at all. So much for the wisdom and maturity that supposedly comes along with age.
Schiff is right, however, in wanting to apply stricter standards to the power and privilege of voting. I don’t think voting should be a free for all. Otherwise you run the risk of mob rule. Voting should be regarded as an important duty, given to those who have proven they care about this country and have a vested interest in securing their community.
But is age the best way to apply the standard of civic responsbility?
I can think of better metrics. Living independently. Paying your own bills. Being free of consumer debt. Being gainfully employed or financially secure. Not having a criminal record. All things that aren’t necessarily age-related.
I do think you should be able to prove that you aren’t a burden to society and dependent on others (outside of factors beyond your control like physical handicaps, etc.), if you intend to have a say via voting in how it runs. Voting is something that should be earned rather than just handed out by virtue of reaching a certain magical age.