Tuesday, November 27, 2007

How old should politicians be?

Some weeks ago, an ill-conceived bill proposal was made in Italy, proposing a public registry for all the publishers of content on the web. The negative eco of this bill was so big, that it eventually ended up being stigmatized as “Italy proposes a Ministry of Blogging” on BoingBoing, one of the top blogs in the world. Subsequently, the following article made a colourful picture of Italy as being under the assault of a geriatric conspiracy. At that point, PL asked me: Yo dude, is this true? I decided to take some time to produce a reasonable answer. The article mentioned three facts: our President of the Republic is 82 years old, our prime minister is 68, our leader of the opposition is 71. How does this relate with the rest of Europe? So I made a quick research and here I show a picture about the distribution of age across prime ministers in a sample of countries, the EU-27 plus some OECD countries.

According to the data, there is only one true outlier: the Japanese Prime Minister Fukuda. Born in 1936, his age surpasses the mean age (52.6 years), above the two standard deviations level (which is 8.23 years). Prodi though, born in 1939, happens to be 17 years older than the representative PM (the median is 51 years old), which is not a minor difference. The youngest Prime Minister is in Bulgaria 41 years old and 27 years younger than Prodi…

Within the EU-27, Prodi is though an outlier (the mean is 51.9 and the sd is 7.9, which brings him exactly on the limit). Not surprisingly, the oldest prime ministers are found in the two countries with the most compelling problem of ageing populations.

My final answer to PL was that, the article did not really say anything new to me. Beside the evidence provided above, I can only add that the problem of political representation of and from younger generations is a serious one indeed. How can this happen? The reason always mentioned to defend the “status-quo” is that, you need to be experienced (old), to prove that you have the right competences; being old equals being wise thus the likelihood of your mistakes is reduced. Fine argument, but the alternative hypothesis, one that had been advanced already more than one year ago by Gianluca Violante from the columns of www.lavoce.info may also be true: if you are older, your knowledge of the world will be more obsolete, and you will likely contribute to a decision-making process far away from reality. The afore mentioned episode and what followed provide enough evidence to confirms the economist’s prediction (when they are right, economists are damned right!): the proposal has been later modified, the writer rephrased its content and many ministers in the council expressed concerns about it, even though they had already approved it….better late than never…

No comments: