Tokyo Notes

Should Parents Vote for Kids?

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Tokyo Notes

Should Parents Vote for Kids?

An academic study proposes a radical solution for dealing with Japan’s demographic crisis.

Japan’s demographic crisis — a greying population and a flagging fertility rate — is well documented. Yet one Japanese academic has published a paper examining a radical proposal for dealing with the fallout of Japan’s inverse population pyramid — namely, allowing parents to vote on behalf of their children.

Reiko Aoki of the Centre for Intergenerational Studies at Hitotsubashi University has jointly published a paper with Rhema Vaithianathan of the University of Auckland asking: ‘Is Demeny Voting the Answer to Low Fertility in Japan?’ (Demeny Voting refers to proxy votes by parents for their children).

The paper states that, according to Japan’s 2005 census, about 24 percent of voters are parents of children under 18, whereas those over 55 constitute 43 percent of voters and therefore have a stronger sway over politicians. Aoki and Vaithianathan argue that the introduction of the Demeny system in Japan would automatically increase parents’ voting power and encourage politicians to focus more on family policy. They’ve calculated that it would increase the aforementioned group of parents’ share of the vote to 37 percent and cut the over-55 bloc’s share to 35 percent.

In an interview with Tokyo Notes, Aoki expanded on why the system should be seriously considered in Japan.


Why do you think Demeny Voting is a good idea?

By issuing debt, we are taxing the future generation, but they have no political representation. (The principle of) taxation with representation seems to be

Doesn't the system effectively give parents two votes? Is this fair on nonparents?

Currently, the pension system (the relationship between premium and receipt) is independent of how many children the person has. With pay as you go, pensions are paid by the current generation. Even if you did not spend time changing diapers, helping them learn to read and write, driving them to piano and soccer lessons, losing sleep or having to stay home when children get sick, you are paid the same amount as those who did. Is this fair?

What about parents of two or more children, will they get three or more

Each child will generate 0.5 votes for one parent. If a parent has three children, he or she will get 1.5 votes. In practice, one needs to sort out biological parent, adoptive and foster parents.

But is granting some people more votes than others democratic?

I personally think one-person one-vote is democratic, but this wasn’t realized until women finally got the right to vote for the first time in history of mankind in 1893 (New Zealand) and in 20th century for rest of the world. Voting was even more limited before franchise extension in 19th century.

What other measures could be implemented to boost the fertility rate in

I’m not suggesting Demeny Voting to increase the fertility rate. I’m saying that the political system needs to change to reflect demographics and the distribution of resources.

Is it politically feasible to implement Demeny Voting? Has it been considered by lawmakers and policy experts?

The big question is whether current voters will ever vote for a system that reduces their political power? Recall that both franchise extension and the women's right to vote was achieved through the electoral system. Voters judged that the gain from giving certain people in society the right to vote was larger than any loss they suffered from losing political power. I’m often told by the older generation that they aren’t selfish and care about the next generation. I’m sure this is the case. They will support the next generation as long as everyone else is sharing the cost. Otherwise, people want to free ride on everyone else. Having a system that can commit society to support the future generation assures everyone that everyone will share the burden.

Has such a system ever been adopted in other countries?

In Germany, they had a vote to change the constitution to implement Demeny Voting in 2003. It was defeated. I believe it was debated (again) in 2008. The German pension system differentiates between people with children and those without. The voting system was given serious consideration in Austria, too.

What would be the theoretic effect of implementing Demeny Voting for
the next lower house election (scheduled for around 2013)?

Greater resistance to public debt — people become more active when they have a stake.