Voting rights for kids?

With the German economy in the doldrums and half of the country without a job, German politicians are concentrating on the essentials: Wahlrecht für Kinder (voting rights for children). Well, not literally: kids would not get to vote themselves, but parents would get one extra vote together for every child they have. Several heavy weights, among them Roman Herzog (former President of Germany) and political talk show host Sabine Christiansen, have expressed support for the idea, which was brought up first by the financial expert in Angela Merkel’s campaign team, Paul Kirchhof. Latest in the row of supporters: FDP (Liberals) MEP and rising star Silvana Koch-Mehrin.

Whoever thought ayatollah Ratzinger’s enthusiastic reception in Germany by thousands of catholic youth was just an exception should now really get suspicious. I certainly do, when I see even Germany’s liberals take over the arch-conservative agenda:

Karriere-Männern, die ihre Kinder abgeben (wie unser Herr Außenminister) oder nicht mal selbst welche produzieren, muß dringend klar gemacht werden, was es bedeutet, die Brut aufzuziehen. Deswegen bin ich für das Wahlrecht für Kinder: Wenn Eltern pro Kind eine Stimme mehr bekommen, werden sich die Prioritäten in Politik und Wirtschaft sehr rasch verschieben […]

It should urgently be made clear to career men, who hand in their children elsewhere (like our Foreign Minister) or don’t even produce any themselves, what it means to bring up the brood. That is why I am in favour of voting rights for children: If parents had one extra vote per child, priorities in politics and the economy would shift very quickly […]

This feels like we are back in 1900. I mean, what more tricks can you think of to adapt the political system to your own specific interests? Of course, life is not always easy for working parents, especially in countries where part-time work hardly exists and daycare facilities are still in their infancy (huh huh). But does “life is not always easy for X” warrant giving X extra votes? I should not think so.

Of course, you could argue that children should be accounted for as individuals wherever, and as much as, this is possible. Hence the left-liberal argument for child benefit as an individual income for the child, paid to the parents as its tutors.

But the “treat children as individuals” argument does not imply giving them the right to vote as well. In fact, the individualist argument is a little shaky already when applied to child benefit. After all, it is not the child itself but its parents who get to spend the extra income, and there is no guarantee parents use it to invest in their children. Still, child benefit can be accepted as it is as there is no other way to do this than through the parents, and as other arguments speak for it too. Those would be more holistic, like: children are a long term interest of society as a whole, or social-democratic, like: government should ensure that low income parents too can afford having children.

Money, however, is a necessity: people can not live without it. They can live without a vote: thousands of people in western societies do that happily – by their own choice, or because they have foreign citizenship. Consequently, the arguments to give people a vote need to be stronger than the arguments to provide them with money.

The argument for money is an individualist one: you need and use money for your own good (or, in this case, that of your own children). The right to vote, on the other hand, is much less individualist than communitarian, as you use it, perhaps, to defend your own interests, but more so to help shape the society you live in and your relationship to it. Arguments for granting someone the right to vote therefore derive, not so much from the mere fact that someone exists, but from the fact that he/she is recognised as a full member of society whose opinion on public matters is valuable to society. This is why most countries exclude the mentally ill, foreigners and children from the right to vote. This is also why it is contradictory to want the right to vote for a category (children) without actually giving them this right (vote by proxy through the parents).

Closer examination of Silvana Koch-Merin’s arguments reveals that, indeed, the proxy vote she favours would not be a vote on behalf of the children but an extra vote for their parents’ interests. They find it difficult to combine work and parenthood – a combination which is their own life choice, not a necessity (Yes, it may be a necessity for some or even many, but we have child benefit as a much less drastic instrument to deal with this situation. And yes, I am sympathetic to that life choice and I would vote for measures making it easier to make that choice, even though I do not have any children myself).

All in all, the “voting rights for kids” is just a silly idea, which serves nothing else than helping the FDP to suck up to conservatives promoting a certain way of life. And you wonder why, as current polls point to a “Grand Coalition” of christian-democrats and social-democrats, with the FDP in the opposition, as the most likely election outcome.

Would the FDP, being a liberal party, reject the communitarian arguments I gave and choose only the individualist ones, ideological coherence leads to the conclusion that foreign citizens too should get the right to vote in Germany. Their case seems a lot stronger than that of children.

6 Responses to “Voting rights for kids?”

  1. Elaib Says:

    Silvana does have two children after all.

  2. eulogist Says:

    Surely a German MEP salary should be enough to pay for a nanny?

  3. Mark Giebels Says:

    This is indeed a ridiculous proposal, particularly for a self-declared ‘liberal’.

    And who is getting the extra vote(s), the father or the mother? Or do they get some private time together in the voting booth to wage war or love about it…? :-)

  4. CapTVK Says:

    “Surely a German MEP salary should be enough to pay for a nanny?”

    Dunno about that, The primary reason for a nanny usually is to take care of the kids. And if you don’t have any kids, why hire a nanny?

    Plus, the german MEP’s don’t even have enough kids to fill up the daycare center that was specially built for them near the Bundestag in Berlin. Apparently it was quite a row because there were plenty of childcare centers nearby with ample room.

  5. Raj Seshadri Says:

    This is a pretty insane proposal, as if even adults have enough time to be properly acquainted with the issues before voting…

  6. Mark Says:

    The basic principle of democracy is one person, one vote. If you had a whole segment of society whose interests were not being represented, then it would be no surprise that they were being disserved by such a dysfunctional political system. When black people in America, or women, or men without property, could not vote, were their interests adequately represented by their enfranchised peers? I don’t think so.

    No matter who suspicious you may be of parents voting on behalf of their children, I personally find the basic underlying principle compelling. I wonder if you would count yourself on the side of slavemasters in the antebellum South. America before the Civil War did have a very rich and powerful class of people who were going to be overthrown by the abolition of slavery. Just look at the demographic issues that have arisen with modernity, and ask yourself whether we are serving our children, our future, in a manner that in anyway accords with principles of social justice. We our selling our children into bond slavery, and you are laughing all the way to the bank.

Leave a Reply