Reason Roundup

The Partisan Divide Is Turning Into an Age War by Proxy

Plus: A primer on street surveillance, new video from Sandra Bland's cellphone, and more...


Democrats are the party of young people, Republicans the party of the olds, and it could have huge consequences for near-future political battles, suggest Harvard historian Niall Ferguson and Greenmantle research analyst Eyck Freymann.

While "skeptical about cyclical theories of history," and "aware of the slipperiness of generations as categories for political analysis," Ferguson and Freymann argue in The Atlantic that "the generation war is the best frame for understanding the ways that the Democratic and Republican parties are diverging."

The Democrats are rapidly becoming the party of the young, specifically the Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) and Gen Z (born after 1996). The Republicans are leaning ever more heavily on retirees, particularly the Silent Generation (born before 1945). In the middle are the Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1980), who are slowly inching leftward, and the Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964), who are slowly inching to the right.

If political trends continue apace, they argue:

Democrats are going to inherit a windfall. Ten years from now, if current population trends hold, Gen Z and Millennials together will make up a majority of the American voting-age population. Twenty years from now, by 2039, they will represent 62 percent of all eligible voters.

If the Democrats can organize these two generations into a political bloc, the consequences could be profound. Key liberal policy priorities—universal Medicare, student-loan forgiveness, immigration reform, and even some version of the Green New Deal—would stand a decent chance of becoming law. In the interim, states that are currently deep red could turn blue. A self-identifying democratic socialist could win the presidency.

Democratic socialism on one side and MAGA conservatism on the other is a grim prospect. But there are a few bright spots for anti-authoritarians in Ferguson and Freymann's analysis.

"When the question is posed as an abstraction, most Gen Zers don't trust the federal government," they write.

Rather, "they favor big-government economic policies regardless because they believe that government is the only protection workers have against concentrated corporate power. Philosophically, many Gen Zers and Millennials believe that government's proper role should be as a force for social good."

I don't think the current appeal of "democratic socialism" means millennials and Gen Zers are a lost cause for libertarians. (We see again and again that young people's support for different economic systems and policies depends drastically on how poll questions are phrased—something noted above in the question about trusting government authority.) But we need to be better at showing how government can be "a force for social good" by getting out of people's way.

As for boomers "inching right," this tends to be in economic matters. There's little evidence that erstwhile liberal boomers are abandoning support for socially liberal stances and old-school civil libertarian beliefs.

Meanwhile, younger people who do lean right, or don't support Democrats for whatever reason, still tend to be less socially conservative than their counterparts in generations past.

Which would all seem to leave plenty of room for third-party or independent candidates who fight freedom in social and cultural arenas as well as in other policy arenas, from financial matters to foreign interventions, criminal justice, tech policy, and so much more. Because as much as mainstream Democrats may shift left on economic issues, they still remain the same old surveillance-state supporting, warmongering, crime-panic promoting, speech smothering, free-enterprise killing control freaks that they, like their Republican colleagues, always have been. That may change with the rise of young Democrats, but (as Ferguson and Freymann point out), we've still got some time before the old guard cedes control. And the only real rule of 21st century politics seems to be that all previous bets are off.


The more you know:


Bitcoin isn't anonymous. "Is that a dealbreaker?" asks Andrea O'Sullivan.

The bitcoin network attains consensus through what is called a proof of work function. Each transaction is time-stamped and linked together in the public ledger called the blockchain. The blockchain allows everyone to agree on who owns what coins, and where they should go.

This was a brilliant hack. It overcame two longstanding problems in computer science called the Byzantine General's problem and the double spending problem. And it has worked incredibly well, spawning a host of digital currency projects inspired by these breakthroughs.

But this breakthrough came with a trade-off. The blockchain ledger that allows for distributed consensus is radically transparent. Transactions made on the bitcoin blockchain are recorded and visible to everyone for all time. There are no do-overs. And it's possible to trace where and how bitcoin users acquire and spend their funds.


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