Intergenerational Justice is the concept of fairness between older and younger generations, and the future impact of the decisions of present living generations. But how much of this is feasible in practical terms, and in what cases should this be prioritised and not neglected?
I would like to begin by presenting the difficult context in which academics try to establish justice across generations. First, the past generations will always have more power over present living generations’ decisions than present living generations have over past living generations. There is a philosophical debate that asks whether present living people could ever cause harm to past living people, but I shall not address it in this article.
The fact that past living generations had the power to choose and start projects that had and have implications in the future is an asymmetrical fact to this theme, and thus, why I concern myself about Intergenerational Justice and not Equality or Equity. Due to the context, only having an imbalanced set of laws (imbalanced from the point of view of justice amongst contemporaries) can create justice in between generations.
Although present living generations also posses such power over future living generations, this power can be hindered due to the responsibilities they have, or the conditions they find themselves in because of the past.
To uncomplicate the thesis above I will present an example. The present living generations of 2008 had to come up with hard decisions after the sub-prime crises. Due to the choices of past living generations (and some contemporaries), the financial system proved itself untrustworthy and due to over inflation of trust in some debt packages, there was a massive hole of debt that in reality that was never going to be paid. Thus, the present generation started off with a disadvantage, but they still have some power over future generations. The Noble Winner Economist Paul Krugman presents us with the power that the present living generation had vis-à-vis the situation they were in “Fiscal policy is, indeed, a moral issue, and we should be ashamed of what we’re doing to the next generation’s economic prospects. But our sin involves investing too little, not borrowing too much”
In conclusion, the present living generation lamented the immense debt they had to pass over to generations due to the situations they found themselves in, and thus borrowed money to maintain the financial system afloat. A decision that was taken without having any responsibilities in the factors that lead up to it. But it is in their power to invest and create job opportunities for future generations, so their future is not plagued by two damaging factors that future generations have no responsibility over.
There is an argument inside Philosophy that tries to disprove the possibility of the existence of a concept of intergeneration justice. The “Non-Identity-Problem” argues that since we have no idea of the preferences and wishes of future generations, thus, any decisions we take are always affecting the future, but we never know if for the better or worse. This argument does present a strong point over such decisions as construction, from city planning, to road planning, to inventions, to infrastructure building.
A current example of this would be the UK’s latest famous topic the HS2 (High Speed 2), the High Speed railway that will go from London to Manchester and Leeds, passing by Birmingham. There are many strong opinions such as Extinction Rebellion’s protests over the environmental impact that the railway will have on the UK wildlife. Even if one of the side effects of the HS2 is to create more capacity in trains and thus lowering prices in train tickets, making trains more viable for commuters that now use their cars.
But there is one generation in this case of HS2 that may not be here to see the HS2 inauguration, but still has a word on it. And this is where intergeneration justice becomes interesting.
According to the 15th of August edition of The Economist, there is a generation of pensioners that do not support the HS2. And there are a number of reasons. According to Vincenzo Atella and Lorenzo Carbonara from the Tor Vergata University of Rome there are countries in the EU that underinvest in education and technology because of impatient old elites that don’t expect to reap the benefits of these investments. And the same applies to the HS2, the fact that constructions can take up to 20 years, means that some voter will never reap the benefits of the constructions either, because they will pass away or because they will be pensioners by then.
Not only that, but this older generation does not feel the economic impact of their political decisions. The Economist points out that from 2009-2020 Pensioner’s income grew 20.6%, against the 5.4% of working-age people. The fact that there are generations that can vote on matters such as Brexit or the HS2 that will have large economic impacts in the whole country but they won’t feel creates somewhat an elite alike to some oligarchies.
The difference here between these voters and Oligarchies is that Oligarchies have more power, and these voters are encompassed in national voting.
But do not think that the pensioner’s votes are a small percentage, as Isaac Vitorino as shown us in his article Europe’s Low Fertility Rates and the Welfare State, Europe is in a demographic winter, thus, the pensioners have a good and leverageable percentage of votes.
The Economist’s article goes over how the Conservative party depends on these votes, and how this is damaging for the progress and growth of the country, presenting data and opinions by older generations on how they prefer investments on NHS instead of job creating and growth.
This creates a situation of intergeneration injustice, while these people vote for measures that will impact the future, they have the information and accurate studies on how such decisions can impact the future. It is not a situation in which a past generation made a mistake by not having enough information.
Not only do they have information, but this older generation knows what the younger generations desires. This is a situation that completely avoids the argument of “Non-Identity-Problem” and still retains the unavoidable power of older generations over younger generations. And still, their choice is of an unprecedented unfairness to younger generations.
As much as I believe that democracy is the best way to govern a country, this is one of its problems, the indifference to growth and progress of one generation can completely hinder future generations lives. The longer the life expectancy, the more we will have this side of democracy appearing. Political topics, when voted on, should not be a question of Ego (in the latin sense of the word), people should be considerate of the future and the world they will leave for new generations.
To finish, I would like to cite my colleague Isaac from the already mentioned article “It is perhaps time to wake up and realize that cherishing a lifestyle must include investing on the aspects that make it work, rather than just reaping the benefits and wilfully ignoring our duty to maintain it.”
If the older generations benefited from the post-war era, and Margaret Thatcher’s neo-liberalism, then they should support what keeps the economic growth rolling, and not stopping it due to the fact that they won’t be affected by any of it.
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