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Has Switzerland become a “silver democracy”? – SWI swissinfo.ch

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Has Switzerland become a “silver democracy”?  – SWI swissinfo.ch

Japan has the fastest aging population in the world KEYSTONE/Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

This content was published on 2024/03/17 08:30

A pension increase plan unexpectedly passed in a referendum in Switzerland on the 3rd, leading to widespread views in Japan that “Switzerland has also fallen into a silver democracy.” How serious is silver democracy, where politics tends to favor older people as voters age?

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On the 4th, one day after the vote, the free newspaper 20min. reported the results with the headline “Clash between generations.” The “13th Month Pension” initiative (citizen initiative), which increases the annual amount of the compulsory Old Age and Survivors’ Pension (AHV/AVS, equivalent to Japan’s national pension) by one month, received a 58.2% vote in a referendum on the 3rd. , and received the majority of state votes needed for passage.

However, voting trends were clearly divided between those of the working generation and those of the retired or near-retired generation.Swiss media group TamediaExit poll external linkAccording to the survey, 40% of 18-34 year olds and 46% of 35-49 year olds voted against the bill, while a majority of 50-64 year olds voted in favor, and 78% of those aged 65 and over who are eligible to receive pensions voted in favor. An overwhelming majority of % agreed.

In the weeks leading up to the vote, there was a heated debate in Switzerland over intergenerational fairness. As a result of the vote, will the conflict between generations become even more intense and the disparity become unshakeable?

Switzerland on the brink of silver democracy

Satoshi Shimazawa (Manabu) Professor, Faculty of Economics, Kanto Gakuin University.Provided by person familiar with generational accounting and silver democracy

Satoshi Shimazawa, a professor of economics at Kanto Gakuin University, said based on the Swiss vote results, “I fear that Switzerland is on the brink of falling into a silver democracy like Japan.”

Silver democracy refers to a state in which older generations have become dominant and are able to influence political decision-making.

This has become a reality in Japan. Approximately 30% of the population is over 65 years old, and the aging rate is increasing. 57% of voters are over 50 years old. As in Switzerland, the voting rate of older people is higher than that of young people (71.4% for people in their 60s and 36.5% for people in their 20s in the 2021 House of Representatives election), and there are concerns that it will be easier for the voices of the elderly to be heard in politics.

This is also reflected in the difficulty of pension reform. One example is the “macroeconomic slide” introduced in 2004. This was a mechanism to limit the growth of pension benefits in line with demographic trends such as the aging of the population, but it has only been activated four times by fiscal 2023. According to Shimazawa, “Both the ruling and opposition parties feared losing political support due to backlash from the elderly.”

Mr. Shimazawa warns about this current situation in Japan. “Reforms that are advantageous to the working generation are not being implemented.As a result, economic vitality has been diminished, and last year Japan’s nominal gross domestic product (GDP) fell to fourth place in the world, overtaking Germany. They are suffering from heavy social security burdens, and the number of marriages and births are at record lows.”

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The influence of silver democracy

Gabriele Vogt and Joske Buchmeier, two Germany-based academics who study Japan, point out that Japan offers an opportunity for democracies with an aging population to glimpse the future.Professor Charles T. MacLean of Yale University announced in July 2023Paper external linkinvestigated Japan’s local government finances and found that the younger the mayor, the more likely they are to increase spending on children, and the older the mayor, the more likely they are to increase distributions to the elderly.

Voigt et al.Research external linkThe authors concluded that Japan’s huge debt, which is 2.5 times its GDP, may have something to do with its age structure. He also pointed out that developed countries have such high elderly populations that high rates of child poverty are often overlooked.

It also found that environmental and climate issues carry little weight in election campaigns, as young people’s voices have little political influence.

The average age of the winners of the 2021 House of Representatives election was 55.5 years old. Only one person under the age of 30 won a seat out of 465 seats. In addition to cultural barriers, there are also high hurdles in the political system. To run for a seat in the House of Representatives, candidates must be 25 years of age or older and must deposit 3 million yen in a single-seat district.

In Japan, the concerns of the oldest population shape the political agenda. 2018 Kyoto Gion Festival KEYSTONE

Vogt et al.’s paper clarified that the aging of the population affects three points: (1) voter turnout, (2) the age of those elected, and (3) political decisions. “Due to ‘politics by the elderly, for the elderly,’ the problems that place an undue burden on the younger generation remain unaddressed,” he declared.

A rejuvenated Swiss parliament

Switzerland has not yet reached this point in many areas. Although the population continues to grow as usual, the Congress tends to become younger. As of December last year, the average age of members of the National Assembly (lower house) was 49.4 years old, which is as low as it was in the 19th century. If we look at the number of members under the age of 30, we cannot say that they are representative of the people, but the same is true for members over the age of 70.

When it comes to voter turnout, the younger generation simply has a stronger tendency to be selective.Only a small percentage of 18-25 year olds do not vote at all in national referendums, and in 2018Survey external linkIt turns out that most young people will vote if the issue is “directly related to them,” “widely reported in the media,” or “not very complex.”

Age does not seem to be the only factor that makes a difference in what matters are put to a referendum. In Switzerland, not only young activistsClimate Senior External Link” groups are also making their presence felt in political discussions.

40% of young people support pension increase plan

There were many young people who loudly supported the pension increase plan. Magdalena Erni, 20, co-chair of the youth wing of the Green Party (GPS/Les Verts), said on a debate program on the German-speaking Swiss public broadcaster (SRF), “This is not a question of intergenerational issues, but of fairness.” .

Magdalena Erni (pictured right), co-chair of the Green Party’s youth wing, represented the voices of young people in favor of the pension increase in the campaign for a referendum on the proposed pension increase. The proposal to raise the retirement age put forward by Matthias Müller (left), leader of the youth wing of the Radical Democratic Party (FDP/PLR), who was the debate partner, was defeated in the referendum. KEYSTONE/© KEYSTONE / PETER KLAUNZER

Tamedia’s exit poll revealed that many low-income people share this view. Approximately 70% of voters with a monthly income of less than CHF4,000, considered the poverty line, voted in favor of the pension increase.

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Old people exploit young people

On the other hand, some older people called on young people to vote against the bill, regardless of their own personal interests. An elderly couple living in Zurich created a stir when they paid their own money to take out an unusual newspaper ad that read, “Young people, vote!”

“We seniors would benefit immediately from a pension increase, but most seniors don’t need it.” In an interview with the German-speaking daily Tages-Anzeiger, the couple, aged 68 and 71, explained their reason for advertising. This received a lot of critical feedback.

What drew particular backlash was the fact that it appeared that the two men were not facing the reality of social issues head-on. The poverty rate in Switzerland for people over 65 is 15.4%, more than double the rate for the working generation.

Poverty in old age is a problem in Japan as well.

Old age pensions are a lifeline for retirees with the lowest incomes. Many do not receive enough pensions to live on, and receive “supplementary benefits,” a type of social assistance, from the government. According to the Swiss Federal Statistical Office, 12.5% ​​of all pensioners also received supplementary benefits in 2021.

Even in Japan, where the political population is aging, poverty among the elderly is serious.german business paperHandels Blatt External linkon the 3rd, pointed out that Japan’s pension system is “more stingy than generous,” raising the question of why there is not more concern about the system collapsing. Unlike Switzerland, for example, it accepts few immigrants, making it difficult to maintain a younger population and a higher proportion of workers.

But the ad put out by an elderly Zurich couple was spot on on key issues. This means that the working generation, the younger generation, is contributing the funds for the pensions of current retirees. Unlike corporate pensions, which are funded, pensions for old age and survivors are based on a pay-as-you-go system.

The pension system still needs to go through many reforms, and it is unclear how it will work by the time people aged 18 now reach retirement age.

Challenges of pay-as-you-go system

Since the referendum, a variety of ideas have emerged regarding how to finance the pension increase. The main proposals include raising the value-added tax (VAT), which would burden all citizens, and raising income and corporate taxes, which would affect businesses and employees. As the population ages, will the burden on workers have no choice but to increase? What kind of reforms are effective now that the majority in democracy is aging?

Shimazawa points out, “In order to avoid conflicts between generations as the population ages, it is best not to turn pension (social security) system reform into an intergenerational issue.” In Switzerland, the second pillar of pensions is the funded corporate pension system, and those with extra funds save money for retirement in the form of personal pensions.

Japan, like Switzerland, already has such a foundation in its pension system.

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Mr. Shimazawa also recommends the introduction of new democratic measures to ensure that pension reform does not depend solely on politicians who seek the votes of elderly people. “In system reforms that inevitably create conflicts of interest between generations, such as the pension system, it is necessary to create a parliament or referendum consisting of politicians, business owners, labor organizations, etc., that is, an organization or conference body that is independent of the will of the people. It is also necessary to isolate them from democracy. Additionally, in order to reflect the voices of future generations to a greater extent, it is worth considering giving the votes of children who do not have the right to vote to their parents, and adjusting the number of votes based on life expectancy.

A new way of thinking about democracy

Mr. Shimazawa’s final suggestion is that the voices of those who have the longest years ahead of them should be given more weight than the voices of those who are older. However, this fundamentally overturns the democratic principle of “one person, one vote” and seems somewhat unrealistic.

Mr. Shimazawa hopes that Switzerland will use Japan as a stepping stone to advance effective reforms. “Fortunately, Switzerland has not yet reached the ‘no return’ point of silver democracy.” When the proportion of elderly voters begins to exceed 30%, “silver democracy becomes a threat.”

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Edited by: Marc LeuteneggerTranslation from German: Tomoko Mutu, proofreading: Kaoru Uda

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