Demographers fantasise that we can all be split into distinctive groups: baby boomers, and generations X and Y. But there are other categories.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics calls those born between 1926 and 1946 the “Lucky Generation”, which surely must be an inside joke, considering those years contained the Great Depression and World War II. Those born after 1986 are trendily described as “iGeneration”, which seems to have displaced the better-known title of “generation Pepsi”.
Despite the millions of words amateur sociologists and management consultants have written concluding that generations X, Y and iGen are flighty, demanding, reckless, and prone to switching jobs without warning, there is no doubt that younger workers will make more rational career choices as the economy slows. Just because someone was born in the ’80s doesn’t make them stupid.
Still, those who deliberately go out of their way to describe themselves as “the youth of today” do seem to be unusually daft. (I say this as someone who is only 26, so, happily, I escaped the “youth” designation two years ago.)
This daftness is no more evident than in the recently published collection of essays called The Future By Us. The book claims to take a bold, fresh approach to Australian public policy. Not surprisingly, most of its proposals are unrealistic, unlikely to be effective, or just deeply unappealing. And some of its proposals are off the planet. For instance, the book’s authors recommend that, along with IQ tests, the Government test every citizen’s GQ (global intelligence quotient) to measure individual awareness of foreign cultures, their travel experience and language ability. Seriously? That’s the quality of ideas that our brightest youths are devising?
Another proposal concerns a healthy fast-food chain, which could, the author imagines, “become a new drive-thru craze”. That’s true, but I wouldn’t bet the organic farm on it. Surely, if an idea like this is really that great, it would be far more productive to open the fast-food chain than write about it.
A strange belief of those who advocate greater youth engagement in politics is that young people bring fresh perspectives to policy debates.
Sure, being able to step back from an area of expertise to look at it from a new angle can be helpful. But simply not knowing very much about a topic doesn’t provide “fresh” perspectives, it just provides uninformed perspectives. Despite the manifest absurdity of policy proposals in The Future By Us, the Prime Minister gave the book a highly complimentary foreword.
The authors of The Future By Us are a typically star-studded bunch. They have been Young Australians and Young Victorians of the Year. Their collaborators serve on councils of youth, they head up youth movements, the United Nations Youth Association and Youth Climate Coalition. They are the directors of youth-specific think tanks, they join state and federal government youth consultancies, become youth ambassadors, chair youth boards and youth advisory committees, and they attend youth-only summits.
Apparently, there is even a discernible youth establishment, with its own turf rivalries, and resistance to competition from other self-appointed youth representatives.
And, consistently, all these proud youths conclude that there should be more engagement between the Government and young people – more boards, more committees, more panels and more consultancies.
But the Federal Government does not exist merely to help people pad their resume. Australia’s cultural obsession with “representation” just results in everybody spending an inordinate amount of time discussing silly ideas instead of getting on with the job.
Anyway, do we really want people under the age of 20 understanding what the phrase “interdepartmental advisory reference group” means, let alone them being members of one? Steering committees should be left to the adults who are compelled to join them only to keep their jobs.
It’s a good thing that most of these young people won’t actually become the leaders of tomorrow. Nobody likes people who describe themselves as leaders before they have found any followers. So attending a youth parliament makes it less, not more, likely that you will ever get a go at “adult” parliament.
Australia’s self-appointed youth representatives will have to start realising that they can’t keep pretending their naivety is actually creativity and therefore demand serious attention. Generation Pepsi deserves better.