The next presidents
"You are the decision makers of the future. You are the ambassadors of your generation."
These words still echo in my own ears. I've personally participated in a large number of youth and student councils, as well as events dedicated to "give a voice to young people". There isn't anything wrong with the idea of involving children in the decisions that affect them on a daily basis, but that doesn't seem to be what we do at all. In reality, children's parliaments are there for our mere entertainment, so that we can smile at the cuteness of youngsters in suits and call them our future presidents.
Take the example of little Horace from Paris, who made the rounds in French media last year for suggesting that we'd tax Nutella and Coke in order to fund the medical care of the poor. The 10 year-old had participated in an exchange with the children's parliament, which got him to ask questions to French president Emmanuel Macron. Horace was then promptly invited to TV shows, and Macron was bashed by the public for having laughed off the suggestion.
Of course the idea isn't of any creative nature: France is already taxing both of those products heavily. Back in 2012, the French government, under president François Hollande, introduced legislation that considerably increased the level of taxation on fatty and unhealthy foods; an interesting perspective knowing that the palm oil contained in Nutella is actually a healthier alternative than trans-fats.
Today, palm oil is taxed at €90/metric ton ($104). As for Coke, France also already taxes soft drinks specifically for the fact that they contain a lot of sugar and can lead to obesity. The soda tax, introduced under president Sarkozy, was increased under both president Hollande and Macron. All of these governments were seemingly unimpressed by the fact that these taxes are regressive, meaning they hit low-income consumers harder than those making more; ironic for a measure that is supposed to help poor people.
So by any standard, the demands of the nationally televised 10 year-old were already reality, and by no means a result of his own thinking. This is what makes child parliaments creepy rather than cute: it's adults making their demands acceptable because their children repeat them. If you don't believe it, just imagine for a second what sort of reaction there would have been, had 10 year-old Horace demanded abolishing the minimum wage. In the unlikely event of it being broadcasted, an outcry would have emerged over the influence of a "neoliberal adult over an exploited child". The double standard isn't too far-fetched of a possibility.
Take the 2018 Key Messages from the joint cabinet meeting between the Children's Parliament of Scotland and the Scottish government.
Here are just two examples from the said document:
- "There is a lot of gender stereotyping in adverts, packaging, toys and clothing and it would be better if more things were gender neutral or didn’t promote stereotypes."
- "Children’s rights are the things that keep children healthy, happy and safe and they’re all in the UNCRC (United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child)."
Call it a hunch, but thinking that a group of 9 year-olds is naturally worried about the intricacies of gender-stereotyping by the toy industry, as well as the respect of a 1989 UN convention, is fairly naive. If a libertarian organization were to gather a group of kids and made them endorse the gold standard and defunding the United Nations, they would rightfully be laughed at, but when we organize through public funds, it makes sense to everyone? Where's the consistency?
Kasky, Gonzalez, Corin, Hogg
In June, survivors of the Parkland, Florida shooting had just finished school. Freshly graduated, some of them, the oldest, completed their studies at Stoneman Douglas High School, still mourning the death of the 17 students claimed in the February 2018 attack.
Today the spearheads of the #NeverAgain movement, David Hogg, Emma Gonzalez, Cameron Kasky and Jaclyn Corin, use much of their free time to lobby on behalf of gun control. Their momentum has died down a little as America goes into the midterm elections, but the confidence with which both the media and politicians cheered on these young adults was astonishing. Even for someone who doesn’t live in the United States, my own news coverage was filled with the statements of David Hogg, clenched fist in the air.
Jordan McGillis writes for FEE:
“I do not doubt that the teens who led the “March for Our Lives” hold their beliefs sincerely—my contention is that the wider anti-gun movement is shamelessly using the teens to erect an intellectual shield. What sort of person, every cover photo and interview latently ask, could possibly be against these poor kids? This tactic stifles credible commentary in much the same way as we see advocacy for lower military budgets smeared as unpatriotic.”
Let’s just imagine if supporters of the 2nd amendment had propped up a group of young adults to promote gun rights, or maybe even gun usage. On a regular basis, firearms carriers intervene in shootings and neutralize the aggressor, but you’ve yet to see the CNN Townhall with the children saved in those incidences.
Youth projects at taxpayers expense
Youth organizations are rarely any different. In Europe in particular, youth organization often receive public funds—particularly from the European Union—for good reasons.
The so-called Erasmus programme funds more than just studying exchanges. Since it merged with the EU's "Youth in Action" initiative, it also funds student conferences, which, to no surprise, do not embolden young people to be very critical of the EU. The "European Youth Parliament (EYP)", co-funded through Eramus+, recruits students as young as 16 for its events, in which they simulate EU-debates. The structure of the debates make it imperative for the students to find solutions to current problems, that need to be solved by the EU. Absence of action is not an option, and in fact, minors are peer-pressured in committee sessions to decide by unanimous consent. "After all, it'd be such a bore if your group were the only one without a final text."
Another project, "Young European Leadership (YEL)", (also co-funded with EU taxpayer money), states that it wants to empower young people to be active European citizens, who provide critical input. Critical only to an extent, as it seems, as YEL has been awarded the European Charlemagne Youth Prize 2016, as one of the best projects "in the entire European Union to foster European integration" (meaning more centralization of powers).
Of course, these young adults are around the ages of 15 to 24, and therefore not as impressionable as those in the age of elementary school, but it does speak lengths that tens of thousands of euros are being used by the government at conferences that confirm that the government should spend more on young people. It's self-fulfilling prophecies at its best, once again nationally broadcast for the confirmation bias of big government.
Young people should be independently minded, and express themselves accordingly. However, feeding youngsters with our own convictions in order to get a cuteness effect in the media isn't cute. It's just creepy.