You might not think that the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom last week falls under the purview of a blog about growing old. And on the face of it, you would be correct. But not this time.
If you've been under a rock for the past 80 hours or so, the U.K. held an advisory referendum last Thursday on whether the country should withdraw from (“leave”) or stay with (“remain”) the 28-member European Union. It was a one-question ballot:
Hardly anyone expected the outcome so it was a shock heard 'round the world when the Leave vote won, by just under four percent.
Stock markets plummeted. Uber investor Warren Buffet was said to have lost $2 billion, my financial consultant (much grander-sounding than the amount of money involved warrants) emailed an early morning briefing and Donald Trump, whose first concern is always personal gain, said the vote is will increase profit at his Scotland golf courses where he was visiting that day.
The defeat was so crushing that Prime Minister David Cameron, who had lead the Remain faction, resigned Friday morning.
Reporters worldwide spent the rest of the day speculating on the dire economic consequences of a UK withdrawal from the EU and by Saturday morning, more than 2 million Britons, harboring second thoughts about their Leave votes, had signed a petition to hold a second referendum.
Over the weekend, two TGB readers emailed each quoting the same New York Times Op-Ed written by a 42-year-old German reporter, Jochen Bittner. Like those petition signers (now up to more than 3 million) he is furious about the outcome of the vote.
Although a Times editor and not Buttner probably wrote it, the headline reads “Brexit and Europe's Angry Old Men.” One TGB reader asked, “How's this for old people bashing?” and both objected to the word “sclerotic” Bittner uses in this context:
”These politicians — men and women, to be sure — are young enough not to have experienced world war,” he writes, “but they are old enough to idealize the pre-1989 era and a simpler, pre-globalization world.
“At the same time, they are obviously too sclerotic to imagine how democratic institutions can adjust to the new realities. With their aggressive posturing, these Nigel Farages, Marine Le Pens, Geert Wilderses and Donald J. Trumps are driving the debate — and possibly driving the West off a cliff.”
By inference, Bittner is denouncing not just the politicians but the old people of the UK and when you look at this chart, you know the reason:
As the BBC further reported, “Of the 30 areas with the most old people, 27 voted to leave the EU.”
Another British journalist, Felix Salmon, writing at Fusion, pointed out reasons for the clash of generations:
”This vote is also the grimmest of reminders of the power still held by the older generation, not only in the UK but around the world. Young Britons—the multicultural generation which grew up in and of Europe, the people who have only ever known European passports, voted overwhelmingly to remain. They’re the generation that just lost its future.
“Meanwhile, Britons over the age of 65, fed a diet of lies by a sensationalist UK press, voted by a large margin to leave. Most of them did so out of a misplaced belief that doing so might reduce immigration, or make them better off, or save them from meddling bureaucrats.
“In a couple of decades, most of those voters will be dead. But the consequences of their actions will resonate far beyond the grave.“
Among those lies was this audacious one made by former London Mayor (and Donald Trump lookalike) Boris Johnson and the leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), Nigel Farage: that leaving the EU means the £350 million a week Britain has been paying to Brussels would be rerouted to ailing national health care services.
Here is how Mr. Farage tried to wiggle out of that promise the morning after the vote with host Susanna Reid on Good Morning Britain:
Please indulge me for one more quotation – this one from my favorite lefty political pundit, an American who writes for Esquire, Charlie Pierce:
”Some of the Oldest and Whitest people on the planet leapt at a chance to vote against the monsters in their heads. They may have tanked their economy in the process.
“It was quite amusing to follow along on the electric Twitter machine as members of The Political Revolution on this side of the pond rejoiced at the result as some kind of ensemble rejection of the globalized financial system that indeed nearly did blow up the world.”
All the charts and commentary about the influence of the British elder vote in their referendum remind me that here in the United States we have a similar kind of oldest generation.
Over all the 20-odd years I've been studying ageing and keeping an eye on the cultural zeitgeist of old people in the US, the majority of them always vote against not only their own best interests but more reprehensibly, against those of their children and grandchildren.
Here's how: In every congressional and presidential election over these years, most people 65 and older have voted overwhelmingly for the candidates who want to cut or kill Social Security and Medicare. Every election, in the two decades I've been keeping track, they do this.
I spend a lot of time on these pages defending elders against the slurs that (usually) younger people sling our way. In addition, it is impossible to miss the many faces of ageism and I do my best to chronicle those, to call for change. But that doesn't make me blind to the more repugnant qualities of my generation.
One of those is the tendency of some to become “sclerotic” in their beliefs or opinions – that is, if you accept the dictionary definition of the word as “rigid, losing the ability to adapt.”
It seems to me that applies quite well in the case of the Brexit vote of those who in Britain are often called the "oldies," which has blown up the world economy.
I don't mean to be flip, but we didn't have enough problems in the world before now?
This week's Monty Pythonesque New Yorker magazine cover about Brexit by artist Barry Blitt pretty well tells the story in one picture.