We're in for a wild ride. Exponentially accelerating technological, cultural, and socioeconomic evolution means that every year will see more developments than the previous one. More change will happen between now and 2050 than during all of humanity's past. Let's explore the 21st century and ride this historic wave of planetary transition with a confident open mind.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Government Gerontocracy and Congressional Term Limits

Legislative gerontocracy guarantees social and economic stagnation.

Structurally, a politician in his 40s will always have difficulty working with important congressmen in their 70s who matured in a radically different country

Many congressmen today were born before television was a commonplace household item. These entrenched dinosaurs are making decisions on topics ranging from net neutrality to regulation of the financial sector. We have the spectacle of people like the corrupt 86 year old Ted Stevens, mentally reckless 72 year old Jon McCain (with choice of Palin being most telling about deterioration of cognitive faculties), and 92 year old Robert Byrd (who had the rank of Exalted Cyclops in the Ku Klux Klan).

The average age of a member of the House is 56 years and 62 years for a Senator . Improving medicine and incumbent friendly tools have driven up the average congressional age in the last few decades. The stranglehold on major important congressional committees by the oldest legislators is resulting in a gerontocracy to rival that of China and Soviet Union in the 1980s.

People who are well past the legal age of retirement (already way too high in the workaholic United States) are simply not cognitively fit for a number of key governmental functions in the 21st century. Things such as modernizing the country, managing cutting edge technological developments to maximum material advantage, conducting high stakes geopolitics, being on the same cultural page as an average elite (the playboy Ivy League lawyers are definitely incapable of being on same page as an average American), or futuristic interdisciplinary national/global strategy.

The reality of political power growing along with the numbers of years spent in Congress has resulted in United States falling further and further behind the developed world. The lack of serious political competition in the archaic political system (where oligarch clans throw support to one or both of the structurally allowed parties) makes it extra easy for senior citizens to keep making and proposing laws. As such, the senior citizens have divided up United States into regional spheres of influence with only some battleground states providing a neural cognitive challenge to privileged incumbents (incumbents have close to 90% re-election rate). The recent event of Republican party being pushed towards a true regional party status will not help matters.

Interestingly enough, the average age of the executive seems to be falling due to the extra special cultural attention placed on this spot as well as the viciousness of competition. The fall in age (of those occupying the powerful political position in society) appears to be not just an American phenomenon but one observed internationally from China to France to England and to Russia. The internet and new rapidly evolving forms of technological mobilization mean that cut throat political competition increasingly favors technologically savvy (who tend to be in their 40s) and not the entrenched senior citizens. For most of national existence of United States that has not been the case as informal patronage proved more key than clever technological marketing.

The falling age of the executive branch and the rising age of the legislative branch will amount to increasing friction in American style political systems in the years ahead. Proportional representation systems are more immune to this since they are less susceptible to legislative gerontocracy formation in the first place. They have greater political contestation (because of presence of multiple strong parties instead of two) and their executive leadership rises from the legislative.

We are already seeing some examples of such age based frictions with Obama battling his own party to push through reform. A 48 year old man is trying to get 70 year olds on key committees to agree with his proposals. The insanity of it is best illustrated with the example of the already mentioned Robert Byrd. How can Barack Obama hope to effectively work with people who came of age in a country where Obama would not be allowed to use the same water fountain as them? It is no different than Gorbachev trying to work with people who came of age in a country where people with Gorbachev's opinion were sent to death camps.

Senior citizens in power have turned the former superpower into a giant retirement home (not mentioning the near future political implications of falling birthrates leading to young versus old demographic disparity). Things have been getting gradually worse for so long (going back to early 1970s) that everybody is used to it. People cannot conceptualize things getting really bad since things are expected to get worse already. The rotting crusty brains of American rulers require implementation of term limits so there is a chance jump start the rotting crusty socioeconomic system.

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