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On the rationality of ageism in libertarianism and in life generally

I always was an ageist and, despite now being quite aged myself, I remain one. In my case this now means that, when wearing my libertarian hat, I attach more importance to recruiting the next generation to the libertarian cause than I do to recruiting my own generation to it. It’s not that I am especially good at turning young people into libertarians, or for that matter at making young libertarians into better young libertarians. But, I try, and I especially admire those libertarians who do this better than I do. Luckily there are quite a few. I suppose the main thing I do to make libertarians and to make libertarians into better libertarians is to fly the flag for the thing itself, libertarianism, which by its nature appeals more to the young than do less excitable and exciting versions of free-market-inclined wisdom.

Oldies often moan about ageism, particularly when they are not that old and are still trying to get new jobs, to replace the jobs that ageist fiends have so cruelly snatched away from them. Oldies engaged in job hunting often find themselves competing with younger rivals, and finding that they are, to put it bluntly, past it.

All hiring decisions are a risk. A promising young recruit, if he (for “he” please read he-or-she from now on) works out okay, might then offer several decades of useful productivity, and even if he soon moves on to another enterprise or activity, you and your colleagues might still gain from having him in your network, for many years hence. An oldie, by contrast, will either be an immediate asset to your enterprise, or he won’t be an asset at all. This may be cruel, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is true. That much touted oldie quality, experience, can be very valuable, but only if it enables the oldie in question to contribute things of great and immediate value. In a crisis, a wise oldie may be just what you want, to fight, now, the fire that is raging, now. But if you are building for the future, as most hirers are most of the time, at least partly, youth and a potentially long future will often trump age and experience. Experience, the young will get. And in addition to not being so set in their ways and better tuned in to new technology, young people have something especially important that old people do not. They have quite long futures ahead of them. Unless there are major breakthroughs in the life-extension trade, a long future is not something that an oldie can ever have or ever acquire.

The enforced irrationality of compelling people to ignore such considerations, by passing laws, which force people (of all ages) to be less prejudiced against old people than they are inclined to be, is bound to cause many bad decisions and to prevent many good ones. Hirers should be allowed to decide for themselves between age and experience and the immediate future on the one hand and youth and the more distant future on the other.

Madsen Pirie is a notable recruiter and improver of young libertarians, in fact, I would say, he is one of the best recruiters and improvers of young libertarians in the world. Pirie featured in my previous posting here, which quoted from a piece by him about a speech he recently gave to some students at the University of Brighton. He does performances like this a lot, for university students, and just as often for teenagers who are still at school. I have lost count of the number of times that Pirie has said to me what I am saying here, far more eloquently than I am saying it. Get ’em young. The cumulative impact of Pirie’s now seriously impressive number of libertarian-decades doing this kind of thing (for he too became a libertarian when quite young) is beyond calculation, in terms of its benefits to our species and its future.

Last Tuesday evening, at the Adam Smith Institute Christmas party, I was able to observe some of the latest human consequences of Pirie’s labours over the decades, happily enjoying their Christmas drinks and each other’s vivaciously youthful company. It was a similar story only even more so at that Liberty League gathering I wrote about here earlier this year. A lot of the same faces were to be seen at both these events.

I have a goddaughter who is now an aspiring and decidedly glamorous classical/operatic singer. She is in London just now, auditioning to get into one or other of the two best London music colleges (fingers crossed, so far so good, blah blah). She went with me to this ASI Christmas party. She also was struck by the youth and intelligence of the majority of those present. She had a good time. She was impressed.

9 comments to On the rationality of ageism in libertarianism and in life generally

  • Mr Ed

    The laws on discrimination do not force people to be less prejudiced, but they penalise less favourable treatment (including the expression of opinions) on the grounds of what are termed ‘protected characteristics’, including age, sex, disability. In age discrimination, the law applies to decisions based on age, not just being old of course, so not hiring a young person can be as risky as not hiring an older person if the decision is based on age. It could even be someone else’s age, e.g. X has an elderly parent and may take time off, Y is an orphan, older than X. To not hire X over Y if X is otherwise the ‘better’ candidate might be found to be discrimination on the grounds of age, the age of the parent of X. Also, X being younger might be more likely to have a living parent than Y.

    There is, however, as is the case (in the UK) with disability discrimination, scope for ‘objective justification’ of what is called direct discrimination when considering age or disability. e.g. a policy of a German fire brigade not to start as a trainee fire fighter anyone aged over 35 was justified on the grounds, roughly, that they want 20 years service and anyone fit enough at 35 would be worn out by 54, so they would not get their money’s worth from the training. A law firm could retire a partner at 65 if the need for career progression in the partnership justified it.

    All of which is of course, appears to be based on the presumption that you cannot be trusted to do what is good for you, and if you do not do what is good for you, (hire and retain the best people, regardless of age), then you will be liable to pay compensation or face penalties.

  • revver

    “Hirers should be allowed to decide for themselves between age and experience and the immediate future on the one hand and youth and the more distant future on the other.”

    Far too often hirers do not have this luxury. Although many causes are to blame, Organized labour has spearheaded the movement to hamstring the young by discriminating (often quite brazenly) against both younger members, and potential hires by excluding them to keep wages and benefits comfortable for senior members. This begs the question: what’s the libertarian position on labour unions?

  • AngryTory

    what’s the libertarian position on labour unions?

    Have ’em all shot! Oh – OK, that’s my position.

  • “what’s the libertarian position on labour unions”

    Perhaps something like: you can voluntarily form groups and organise to go on strike, as long as I can voluntarily fire you for not showing up for work, or not hire your members in the first place.

  • CaptDMO

    “what’s the ONE, so called libertarian position on labour unions?”

    Sure, you can have ONE person, from your actually working midst, to represent ALL of you in
    “Good faith collective bargaining”.
    1. If “the old contract” is claimed to be unacceptable, it will first be dissolved, in toto, with prejudice.
    2. If the “new terms” are not acceptable, your “collective” ass is out the door. Individuals MAY reapply for a position, however, there will be Affirmative Action in hiring otherwise unemployed from outside the union “skill set” to which you’ve become accustomed.

    Kinda’ like “one divides, the other decides”.

  • blingmun

    Not just ageist but cliched. Older workers in general are more punctual, reliable, methodical, literate, numerate and have better inter-personal skills. What they lose in flexibility they more than make up in experience and general knowledge. Apart from that this article wasn’t entirely contemptible.

    * A trait, far from being the province of the young, is mainly a foolish exaggeration by journalists and bloggers who really are passed it – you know the sort, the ones who always seem to end up telling you how much better young people are at using VCRs.

  • Tedd

    “What’s the libertarian position on labour unions?”

    Although sentiment against unions as they are presently constructed is probably common among libertarians, libertarianism itself clearly supports the right of free association. Employees or members of a trade clearly have the right to form an association if they want to. Equally clearly, other employees of the same employer, and other members of the same trade, have the right not to join. As well, a union has no right to act collectively in ways that would not be right for any of its individual members. (That is the same principle libertarianism applies to government.)