The Kids are all right

It turns out that 18-24 year olds are more libertarian than you’d think.

An Economist review of the long running BSA (British Social Attitudes) attitudinal study has found that 18-24 year olds think “people have a right to express themselves by what they consume and how they choose to live”.

This matters greatly to politicians, most of whom cling to the assumption that the youth are liberal socialist ne’er do wells. The Left assume the young follow in their footsteps. The Right assume they will when they grow older.

According to the survey, the young are less likely than their elders to be part of, or want to join, a religion, a political party, a trade union or the armed forces.

The Left will thrill to hear that the young are more relaxed about drugs, sex, alcohol, euthanasia, homosexuality, and non-traditional family structures. They dislike immigration (that’s primal), but not as strongly as their elders.

The Left, and the Right will both be baffled to learn that the young value social freedom, low taxes, limited welfare and personal responsibility.

This attitude harks back to the true origins of Whig liberalism and even the 1960s ‘counter-culture’. The young embrace social and cultural difference so much that they reject the desire by all mainstream political wings to enforce social conformity.

The Economist says:

All age groups are becoming more socially and economically liberal. But the young are ahead of the general trend. They have a more sceptical view of state transfers, even allowing for the general shift in attitudes

The Economist reports that YouGov polling shows the 18-24 group are more likely than older people to consider social problems the responsibility of individuals rather than government.

They care about the environment, but are also keen on commerce: more supportive of the privatisation of utilities, more likely to reject government attempts to ban branding on cigarette packets and more likely to agree that Tesco, Britain’s supermarket giant, “has only become so large by offering customers what they want”.

This trend might not be international though.

Britons between 15 and 35 are more relaxed about the consumption of alcohol, tobacco and cannabis than are young people in the EU as a whole.

This is fascinating stuff, as it is offside with the socialist and social determinist accord of centrist Political Parties.

The young are learning the value of power of doing things for themselves. The Internet generation is learning the power of unconstrained ideas; with phenomenons that don’t require centrist management; like crowd-sourcing ideas and funding, and  concepts like Bitcoin (an internet currency).

I, like the Economist, think politicians should consider ditching their old ideologies and pick up the new ones emerging from the next generation of voters.

To do that politicians need to listen, not talk – something they’ve found hard at any time in history.

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