Australia recently announced its federal election for 2016 and the moment it happened, the posters went up and the spam mail was sent out everywhere. On Friday I got this flyer in the mailbox. It was addressed specifically to me and it came from my local member of parliament Chris Pyne.
Somewhere it was on file that I'm 24 years old and am therefore classified as "youth". So Pyne's office sent out this targeted flyer proclaiming that the Liberal government is investing hundreds of millions of dollars into a number of new programs that will help youth secure work or start their own businesses.
This is a timely initiative. From what I've heard, people my age are graduating from university, having slogged for four years or more through all the deadlines and grades, and yet are struggling to find employment in their chosen fields. However, this doesn't affect me at all. I chose not to go along the path of tertiary education, choosing instead to go straight into the working world and try to find a pathway about which I'm truly passionate. I've never struggled to find work. I've had periods where there's not a lot of work coming in, but that's just the nature of the jobs I pick. In fact, I often joke that the reason none of my peers can find jobs is because I've taken them all. So while I think that introducing programs to help youth find work is a great idea, it only benefits people who happen to not be me.
So then an interesting question occurred to me: Should we be voting for the party that best serves our own needs or the needs of the greater population? The whole point of our system of government is that a person is elected to represent us in parliament. Each member of parliament represents around 100 000 people and the assumption is that the member's desires and beliefs reflect the desires and beliefs of the majority of those 100 000 people. What if I've misread what's going on around me and it turns out that there really isn't any sort of youth jobs crisis? What if those hundreds of millions of dollars could have been better spent elsewhere but it's not, because the people have voted them in based on that policy? Could voting for the party out of empathy for my unemployed peers actually end up being detrimental?
Say for argument's sake that 60% of voting youth were finding work just fine. The other 40% are struggling. 40% of youth being unable to find work is a huge number. But the other 60% decide that they want to start families. There's only room in the budget to accommodate one of those groups. Party A is offering to assist the unemployed, while Party B wants to help start families. Everyone votes for the party that serves their own needs best, so Party B gets in. The 60% group get help starting the families they badly want and the 40% are still no closer to finding a job. Is this a good or a bad outcome? Is it good because the majority of people had their needs met? Or is it bad because finding work is a greater need than starting a family?
I tend to lean towards the former - that the needs of the many outweigh those of the few. But there's a huge flaw in that belief. What of those whose needs can't be heard? Here's Scenario B:
Party A wants to invest a nine-figure sum into programs that help the disabled and the elderly. Party B instead wants to put that money into roads and infrastructure. Everyone votes according to his or her own needs. But not only do many of the disabled and elderly not have the mental capacity to vote, but even the ones who do are far outnumbered by the rest of us that are able-bodied. Party B wins in a landslide and the lives of the incapable get worse and worse as each election passes. In this case, I believe firmly that empathy needs to be taken into account when voting.
Finally, consider Scenario C:
60% of youth find it hard to get a job. Party A is offering to help them with that. But also, 60% of the elderly are living in poor conditions, and are struggling to survive with their current retirement benefits from the government. Party A isn't willing to help them, but Party B is. The catch is if Party B helps the elderly, it won't be able to help the youth. One of the groups may have to give way to the other. Should either of them put their own problem aside? Or should they both be selfish and try and get their own dire needs met first?
This of course uses the unrealistic assumption that only one demographic can be helped at a time. But the question I feel is still valid. When voting in someone to represent you in parliament, should you be selfish or selfless? Is it possible to find a party that strikes a good balance between the two? Would ranking issues in order of necessity help you make a decision or just make it more complicated?
I hope you find it easier to make a decision than I do.