Calling B.S. on Ageism: What the Response to the Parkland Shooting Means for Youth Rights

Posted by on April 17th, 2018

Protest sign saying "Armed with Ballots" A sign from the March for Our Lives rally in Washington, D.C.

Yet another reason we should lower the voting age

The fallout from the Parkland shooting has brought the country’s attention to several facts that often go overlooked. Since the shooting, more people are starting to see that young people have an immediate stake in the way the country is run. And, secondly, thanks to student activism, people are starting to see that youth are willing and able to be politically active. This has led to many op-eds advocating lowering the voting age. More people now see the absurdity of claiming that politics is “not for kids” when “kids” are being killed in incidents that are highly politicized.

Of course, political activism is not something new that young people suddenly started to do two months ago. Young people have been major political participants from today’s Black Lives Matter movement to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and beyond. The fact that youth activism is starting to gain the recognition it deserves is a great step forward and has a tremendous amount of potential for increasing youth rights in general.

Pushback against the voices of young people

However, whenever young people attempt to be heard, there is a backlash. While much of the backlash in the case of Parkland is simply because gun control is a highly controversial issue, the Parkland activists have largely been attacked because of their age rather than the substance of the issues. They have been told by politicians that they are too young to be involved in politics. They have been accused of being pawns in a conspiracy by the liberal media. Their critics assume that young people “are not rational actors,” and that they are simply parroting what liberal adults say.

However, this argument quickly falls when we realize student have also organized walkouts in favor of the Second Amendment or against abortion. These protests show that young people are capable of participating in a variety of political movements as independent actors. Whether commentators think young people should participate in politics is largely dependent on whether they agree with the protestors’ position.

Similarly, whether or not students were punished for organizing school walkouts was determined by the biases of adults. While some schools supported students’ right to freedom of expression and assembly, others punished students harshly, including one school that notoriously, yet legally, hit students for participating in the walkout. Another school punished students because participation in the walkout would conflict with students “growing educationally, emotionally, and morally,” which, of course, is not a judgement young people are allowed to make for themselves.

“Making schools safer”

With any school shooting comes discussion about how to increase safety in public schools. However, we should recognize that school shootings command a disproportionate amount of media and political attention, compared to other serious issues. According to recent research, mass murders occur between 20 and 30 times per year, and only about one of those incidents on average takes place at a school.  And only an average of about 10 students per year have been killed by gunfire at school over the past 25 years. This is a very small number, compared with the over 35,000 gun deaths that happen each year, and yet politicians and the media spend a disproportionate amount of discussing how to make schools safer, rather than focusing on the country as whole.

It is easier to “ask” young people in school to make all of the sacrifices: to pass through metal detectors each morning, to put up with heightened levels of suspicion and more restrictions on freedom of expression. Of course, students don’t get asked at all what they think about these policies, as most would reject them.

It has been long established that increased fortification and policing of schools has a negative effect on students. More policing leads to more students being arrested, and worsens the school-to-prison pipeline. Such policies, in fact, have a negative effect on school safety overall, and do little or nothing to prevent gun violence.

Some of the “make schools safer” platform has also proposed arming teachers. This too is a burden for students. Not only is it intimidating to spend all day following the directions of an armed teacher, it is also dangerous. Since Parkland, at least one student has been accidentally shot by an armed teacher and there’s legitimate concern that armed teachers would disproportionately shoot students of color. But because young people lack other fundamental rights, it is easier to further whittle away at the ones that do exist.

Banning guns for people under 21

In the wake of the Parkland massacre, many advocates for gun control have called for raising the firearm purchasing age to 21. Stores such as Walmart, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Kroger, and L.L. Bean have implemented store policies to refuse to sell guns to anyone under the age of 21. However, these policies are an ineffective and an unfair way to prevent another Parkland.

Raising the purchasing age would be ineffective at preventing mass shootings. Out of the 34 deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history, the Parkland shooter is the only person under the age of 21 who purchased the gun legally. On top of this, the vast majority of mass shootings are committed by people between the ages of 20 and 49. So even if raising the purchasing age were effective at stopping people aged 18-20 from committing mass shootings, then out of the 1,000+ deaths from mass shootings in the last 35 years, this policy would still only have saved tens of lives.

Second, raising the purchase age would be unfair because it would single out a minority group to sacrifice a freedom that many consider to be a Constitutional right. Of course, how we should interpret the Second Amendment is still an open question. But it is a double standard to say that owning a gun is a Constitutional right for people 21 and up (the ones who commit the vast majority of mass shootings) and yet to say that it isn’t a Constitutional right for people under 21 (who will continue to be victims of the mass shootings largely committed by older people). Once again, young people are being unfairly volunteered to make a disproportionate number of sacrifices to pay for the irresponsible behavior of older people.

Two young people, Tristan Fulton, 18 and Tyler Watson, 20, are resisting these unjust policies and are currently suing Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart for age discrimination. Fulton and Watson are residents of Michigan and Oregon, respectively, and these states both have statutes protecting young people from age discrimination. Both of these cases could set a future precedent for protecting young people’s rights and NYRA will be following them closely.

Where do we go from here?

This is a particularly interesting time for youth rights as we see more support for lowering the voting age as well as greater restrictions on youth rights in and outside of school.

We must take advantage of this opportunity to promote a lower voting age. A member of the Washington D.C. City Council re-introduced a bill to lower the voting age to 16  for all elections. When NYRA worked on this bill in 2015, the bill stalled because there wasn’t enough support for lowering the voting age. Now, because of the March for Our Lives, D.C. Council Member Charles Allen decided to reintroduce it saying: “It’s pretty hard for anyone to watch the events of the last couple of months and not understand the pure power and maturity of incredibly young voices… I don’t see how anyone could hear any of those voices and think that person couldn’t make an informed decision like anyone else.” Now more voting age campaigns are being organized and we have compiled a list of current campaigns to lower the voting age.

We must also continue to resist people using false narratives to single out young people with new restrictions. Targeting young people is not the answer. No matter what side of the gun debate individuals find themselves on, we should all come together and resist any attempts that try to scapegoat young people for the nation’s problems. We need to recognize that students don’t just have a right to safety, but a right to express themselves and make decisions concerning school policy. Of course, NYRA has always done these things, but now, it seems like a lot more people are listening.

Portland Student Rights Union joins NYRA to address Student Rights

Posted by on April 11th, 2018

Nine members of the Portand Student Rights Union: A NYRA Chapter Members of Portland Student Rights Union – A NYRA Chapter

We originally started the Portland Student Rights Union (SRU) in October 2017 to protest the administration of our school, the Metropolitan Learning Center Administration in Portland, Oregon, taking away all student breaks as a form of collective punishment. Even though we were an unofficial group, it was through our efforts, along with support from additional members of the student body, that the administration reinstated our breaks. Soon after, the school’s administration also banned the use of the Gadsden flag after a complaints when a students was seen showing it to another student. We explained to the administration that the students weren’t trying to offend anyone, but show their patriotism and support for Libertarianism and that they had a right to express their views in school. At this point, we decided that it would be important to be associated with the National Youth Rights Association, so, in February of 2018, we became a chapter. We joined NYRA for two main reasons: one, to provide us with backing and support for our causes by an organization dedicated to student rights, and  and two, to be make ourselves more reputable and have name recognition from other NYRA supporters. We are currently still working with the administration about the right to fly the flag and other student rights, but we are now considered an official club at our school. We are working closely with other students, our school leadership class, student committees, and school employees, to help further the rights of students and young people in general.

18 Years Is Half My Life

Posted by on April 4th, 2018

Time speeds up

A year represents less perceived time to someone in their 90s than it does to someone in their teens. You can see how time accelerates as we get older in this interactive visualization by Maximilian Keiner.

Keiner argues that to human beings, the first 18 years of life seem just as long as the remaining 70. Until we reach the end, most of our meaningful existence is in our youth. Think of all the older people in the world—teachers, bankers, generals, Supreme Court justices. Most of what they’ve experienced comes from their youth.

Ageism is not from ignorance

If youth contains most of who we are, how is it that many of us can feel such prejudice towards young people?

We’ve all been young for most (or all) of our perceived lives. No one can really be ignorant about youth, any more than we can be ignorant about a job we’ve held for most of our lives. This is why I find it so ridiculous whenever anyone claims to be a “youth expert” or a “child expert.” To me, this would be like calling yourself a “human expert” or a “life expert.”

Ageism is that special kind of prejudice that comes not from ignorance, but from too much familiarity. It’s like an unhealthy relationship. Instead of learning to live in peace with youth, many people decide to abuse and antagonize it. This is a terrible mistake. Youth is—and always will be—the most essential part of us.

Esteem for youth is self-esteem

The way we feel about youth is a direct measure of the way we feel about ourselves. Ageism is a form of self-degradation, if not outright self-hatred. Consider our friends and relatives who are most critical of young people. If we know them well enough, we can easily see their real motives. By criticizing young people, they’re really acting out their own feelings of inadequacy.

Most people in our society experience youth as a state of frustration and powerlessness. We spend our whole adult lives trying to get away from this powerlessness, to find control. Many of us don’t succeed. We can move away from home, get married, have children we can boss around, and buy home surveillance systems. Even after all that, many of us don’t feel any more in control than we did as children.

Ageism is a form of immaturity

When we fail repeatedly to feel “grown-up,” we have to settle for faking it. We use ageism to counterfeit an adult identity. At a certain age we can get a fake passport and pass ourselves off as intelligent and powerful people. Everybody we show our passport to recognizes it as a fake. But by unspoken agreement, nobody exposes us. We are all impostors—often bad impostors at that. No one wants to blow anyone else’s cover, for fear of getting their own cover blown. We need our support network of liars. Without it, many of us could not pretend to be much more adult than we were when we were young.

Ultimately, dependence on ageism is a form of immaturity. It’s the attitude that young people are totally different from older people—a lesser species. Keiner’s model shows that people who think this way are like closeted homophobes. They are not only guilty of intolerance towards others, but also of self-delusion and cowardice.

Time’s up

We have such precious little time on this planet. And yet people waste so much of it on projects that can’t possibly do anyone any good. Projects like defending corporal punishment or boredom in school. Most of us learned in childhood that wasting time is ok. It’s alright that childhood feels useless, unpleasant, and endless. That’s the way life is. Only we forget that life isn’t endless. Life puts on the gas, speeds towards the edge of a cliff. We need every second if we’re going to get anything meaningful out of the experience.


Interview with CA Assemblymember Evan Low

Posted by on April 1st, 2018

Evan Low is a California Assemblymember representing the 28th District and is no stranger to ageism. When he hit the streets to run for Campbell City Council at the age of 21, voters answered their doors asking, “What school do you go to?” or said, “I have shirts and ties that are older than you!” Two years later he ran again, and was elected this time. At the age of 31, he successfully ran for the California State Assembly, and is still one of its youngest members.

We met with Assemblymember Low to discuss his background and how becoming politically active at a young age has shaped his perspective. We also learned about ACA-10, the bill he introduced to put a ballot initiative before voters to lower the voting age in the State of California to 17. Evan is working to secure the votes necessary to pass the resolution in the state assembly, and we’re thankful for his advocacy on behalf of young Californians!

MemYU Takes Tennessee by Storm

Posted by on March 5th, 2018

MemYU Chapter Members

We at the Memphis Youth Union (MemYU) have decided to develop our local campaign to state. Our goal? Extension of voting rights to sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds in local and state elections in Tennessee!

We are a NYRA chapter that consists of seven high-school-aged youth community organizers and one adult ally working with a local non-profit, BRIDGES USA, Inc. We first recognized the importance of voting rights for youth in 2015, when we realized the modern-day “taxation without representation” that has been affecting our nation. MemYU is also focused on both cultural and policy change – not only do we intend to change legislation, we have developed a campaign that gives vulnerable insights to the lives of Memphis youth, called YoMemphis! (Youth of Memphis!). We are currently working on building a coalition within Tennessee to strengthen the support and initiative around the campaign through a national convening.

In her recent article entitled The Case for Lowering the Voting Age to 16, MemYU member Brentley Sandlin, discusses the three cities in the United States that have already been successful in extending voting rights (Greenbelt, MD; Takoma Park, MD; and Hyattsville, MD). She points out that:

Youths are much more serious and responsible than dominant narratives give us credit for… [although] the fact remains that teens are taxed, yet we have no voice in how our money is spent within our own communities.

As we have continued to bring more attention to our cause, our campaign has growin in strength, and we hope to bring a proposed draft of legislation to Tennessee Congress beginning of 2019.

Memphis Youth Union (MemYU) is a NYRA Chapter working lowering the voting age and other youth-related issues. To learn more you can connect with them on their website or on their Facebook page.

Youth rights lessons from “Lord of the Flies”

Posted by on February 12th, 2018

Photo credit:

The “Lord of the Flies” argument

The “Lord of the Flies” argument goes like this. Let’s say I want to lower the voting age, or give students more constitutional protections in school. Someone using the argument would reply, “Bad idea. That would undermine adult authority and lead to a ‘Lord of the Flies’ scenario.”

However, this “Lord of the Flies” argument isn’t so much an argument as it is an appeal to a kind of folkloric fear of young people. Stories pass down, telling about a hell on earth created by empowered young people. If we buy into this mythology, then we have no trouble finding evidence to support it. But if we don’t, then we have no trouble disproving it. The “Lord of the Flies” argument convinces only those who are already convinced.

The actual book Lord of the Flies

Now, it’s important to clarify that the “Lord of the Flies” argument is not the same thing as the actual book, Lord of the Flies, by William Golding. On the one hand, the argument is used as a kind of parable to vindicate adult authority. On the other hand, the actual book has essentially the opposite purpose: it is a criticism of adult authority. This isn’t a fringe interpretation. It’s what the author himself has said:

The whole book is symbolic in nature except the rescue in the end where adult life appears, dignified and capable, but in reality enmeshed in the same evil as the symbolic life of the children on the island. The officer, having interrupted a man-hunt, prepares to take the children off the island in a cruiser which will presently be hunting its enemy in the same implacable way. And who will rescue the adult and his cruiser?

The problem Golding illustrates in his book isn’t that young people are evil without adult supervision. The problem is that everyone is evil, and that society will inevitably be a product of that evil. It has no power to “rescue” us.

What is the real conflict in the book?

The book’s main symbolic struggle takes place, not between uncivilized childhood and civilized adulthood, but between two systems of government. These are represented by two boys: the hero Ralph, and the villain Jack.

At first, everyone democratically elects Ralph as their leader. His power comes from the people, from the consent of the governed, and it stays that way. In his society, each person has an equal chance to speak in assembly. It’s also significant that Ralph never uses his power in a punitive way.

Jack, Ralph’s evil counterpart, is the first one to introduce the idea of punishment. He eventually secedes from Ralph’s society and becomes dictator (“chief”) of the island. He gets the other boys to join him by appealing to their lowest fears and desires. He also begins punishing disobedience with torture, thereby introducing the first criminal justice system to the island.

Are we Ralph or Jack?

If we look at these two boys’ political systems and compare them to our own, we will find that institutions like the public school system—supposedly designed to protect young people from their own savagery—are structured more like Jack’s dictatorship than Ralph’s egalitarian society. We can see this in the following table:

Jack’s Tribe Public School System Ralph’s Tribe
Absolute dictatorship Paternalistic oligarchy Democratic republic
Emphasis on tribal pride Emphasis on school spirit Emphasis on rescue
Distinctive war paint, hair tied back Distinctive uniform, face paint No distinctive dress
No individual rights Limited individual rights Rights to vote, assemble, speech, seek rescue
Violent paranoia about mythical “beast” Violent paranoia about gangs, drugs, etc. Fear mitigated by voices of reason
Consent of the governed disappears No consent of the governed Full consent of the governed through election
Outlets for id: dancing, hunting, feasting Outlets for id: dancing, sports, pep rallies Outlets for id: none structured
Based on fear of punishment, “beast” Based on fear of punishment, failure Based on shared goals and mutual respect

Young people grow up under a rule much more like Jack’s than Ralph’s. The goal of youth rights is to tip the balance the other way. Of course, critics could argue that young people aren’t capable of living in Ralph’s tribe—that’s why it fell apart. They could argue that a Jack-like tribe is all young people can handle. But if this is true, then we have to ask: who is our Jack? Who is our “chief” in charge of young people? The answer should be obvious.

When we first meet Jack, we see him as he was in “civilized” life. He was a prefect, the head of the boys’ choir. We see him force the other boys to wear their hot choir robes and march in file. Whom in our society does he remind us of? Who places a similar importance on titles and ranks? Who makes young people wear uniforms and march in single file? The answer should be obvious.

Who is there in our society who, like Jack, appeals to young people’s worst nature? Who, like Jack, uses fear and bribery and manipulation in order to get young people to do as they say? Who, like Jack, enjoys jokes about mistreating or hurting young people, and sometimes actually carries them out? The answer should be obvious.

It is adults who play the role of Jack. It is adults who run this society, this “tribe”. And it is adults who have most refined and exalted the evil part of human nature.

The great irony of Lord of the Flies

The greatest irony of Lord of the Flies is that most readers think the boys on the island are monsters. To think this way is to fall into the exact same trap the boys did. They took their own sins, and projected them onto an imaginary external monster: the “beast”. Yet even though most older people have read this cautionary tale at some point, they haven’t learned from it. Instead, they’ve actually used the story to project their own sins onto yet another external monster: young people. They might as well chant Kill the beast in the hallways when they paddle misbehaving students, or tackle middle schoolers for trying to break up fights.

This fundamental misunderstanding of the book is the reason the “Lord of the Flies” argument exists. It’s a grotesque parody of Golding’s lesson—or perhaps a grotesque kind of tribute to it. Those who fall into this trap of scapegoating have not only missed the point of Lord of the Flies, but have proven it as well.

Two Maryland cities consider a lower voting age

Posted by on December 21st, 2017

Members of the Greenbelt City CouncilMembers of the Greenbelt City Council consider a bill to lower the voting age.

On Monday, December 11, 2017, Greenbelt, Maryland came one step closer to becoming the third city in the United States to lower the voting age to 16 for all local elections. After successfully gaining the support of the majority of voters in a non-binding referendum, the Greenbelt Youth Advisory Council submitted their proposal to lower the voting age to the Greenbelt City Council. Members of NYRA-DC attended the council meeting where the bill received its first reading. It is believed that because the measure has the support of the voters, the city council is likely to vote in favor of the bill at its next scheduled reading on January 8th. NYRA-DC Chapter members will lend support and speak in favor of the measure at the meeting.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t all good news for voting rights that night. Back in November 2016, Glenarden, Maryland became the third town in the United States to grant voting rights to people aged 16 and 17. Merely a year later, members of the Glenarden City Council, many of which were newly elected in the last year, chose to reconsider the right to vote for young people.

That night, members of the NYRA-DC Chapter also attended the Glenarden City Council meeting and along with other voting rights activists expected to be able to inform the council of the many benefits of a lower voting age. However, the city council decided to vote on the repeal without hearing from the public, despite requests to do so. The Mayor also suggested putting the repeal to a public referendum, but this was also denied. Unfortunately, the council decided to remove the voting rights of 16 and 17 year olds by a count of 5-2. NYRA has attempted to contact Glenarden’s newly formed Youth Advisory Committee in hope that they might take up the fight for voting rights.

If you live in the area, and would like to attend Greenbelt’s next council meeting, join NYRA’s DC Chapter, or even start a voting rights campaign in your town let us know.


Big Day for Voting Age in Maryland

Posted by on December 11th, 2017

Jeremy Tuthill and Julia Sharapi of Greenbelt's Youth Advisory Committee campaign to lower the voting age.

Today is a vote-a-rama for the movement to lower the voting age with two Maryland towns taking up the issue at their meetings tonight.  In Greenbelt, Maryland, the city council is voting on Resolution 2057 to lower the voting age to 16.  After voters last month passed an advisory measure in favor of lowering the the voting age in Greenbelt, tonight’s meeting will enact the voter’s will.

This is very exciting and while we thought this would make Greenbelt the third city with a voting age of 16, it turns out that Glenarden, Maryland quietly lowered their voting age to 16 last year.  Unfortunately, that progress is under threat as the new city council is voting tonight on a measure that would raise the voting age back to 18.  NYRA members will be in attendance at the Glenarden meeting to try and stop Glenarden from disenfranchising current voters in the city.

If you would like to submit a comment in support of a 16-year-old voting age in Glenarden, please e-mail the council clerk.  And if you are in the area, please attend the meeting and join NYRA in supporting youth suffrage.  Tonight’s meeting begins at 7:30 PM, December 11, and is held at 8600 Glenarden Pkwy, Glenarden, MD 20706-1522.


Lowering the drinking age could be cost effective

Posted by on December 7th, 2017

Can of beer wrapped in a $100 bill

In the 1980s, states decided to raise their drinking age to 21. Surprisingly, it wasn’t because of safety, public pressure, or even their own emotions. The main reason states raised the drinking age was because they risked losing 10% of their federal highway funds to the National Minimum Drinking Age Act (NMDAA). The Supreme Court called this a “relatively small” amount of money.

What would a lower drinking age cost society?

Losing highway funds might affect state governments, but it wouldn’t be a true “loss” to our society. It would just be money that belonged to the federal government instead of the state governments. The actual net loss for society would be 0. The better question is, what would be the real financial cost if all states lowered their drinking ages to 18? As far as I can tell, no one has seriously examined this question. We have some data, but we’re going to need a lot of guesswork.

Financial Losses from Lowering the Drinking Age to 18
Revenue from fines would decrease. In the US, there were about 292,378 liquor law violations in 2015. We can guesstimate that about 3/4 of these arrests (220,000) resulted from under-21 drinking and its related crimes. Let’s say each arrest resulted in an average fine of around $500. 220,000 x $500 = $110 million in fines. The next question is, how much of this money would be lost by lowering the drinking age? Well, the population aged 18-21 (just under half the arrests) is about equal to the population that would no longer be arrested with a lower drinking age. That would decrease revenue by about $49.5 million. -$49.5 million
Greater social cost. One study claims that under-21 drinking costs the country $61.9 billion a year. This comes from healthcare bills, lost quality of life, lost labor, crime, etc. So how might lowering the drinking age affect this number? There is no real way to know—you’d have to be God. But to get an idea, let’s try using traffic fatality trends as a representative sample of all social costs. Critics of Legal 18 argue that raising the drinking age reduced traffic fatalities (and presumably, associated costs) among drivers aged 18-21 by 13%. Unfortunately, it also raised fatalities among drivers aged 21-24. Taking this into account, one study actually estimates that lowering the drinking age would reduce overall traffic fatalities among all drivers aged 18-24 by about 2.7%. Other studies have found no significant change from the federal act. But since supporters of Legal 21 seem so sure, I’ll make a gesture of good faith. Let’s say that lowering the drinking age would increase all social costs of under-21 drinking by, say, 5%. This is a number I’ve conjured out of thin air. But it seems just as good as any other. $61.9 billion x 5% = $3.1 billion. -$3.1 billion
Total -$3.149 billion


Financial Gains from Lowering the Drinking Age to 18
Spending on enforcement and prevention would decrease. I’ve done my best to estimate our country’s current spending on enforcing and preventing underage drinking:

  • Federal spending: $70 million in grant money. We can guess that at least another $70 million goes to implicit costs, such as administrative time, and extra attention from federal agencies (CDC, SAMHSA, NIAAA, etc.)
  • State spending: $500 million, from complicated guesswork based on a report by the US Department of Health and Human Services. We can reasonably add another $500 million for implicit costs such as administrative time, regular police time, regular school time, and attention from state agencies.
  • Local spending: Information on local spending is especially hard to find. Numbers can run from $46,000 to $75,000. However, these numbers do not include implicit costs, such as regular police time, which represent far greater costs. We can conservatively guess that the average US city/town/village actually spends on average $100,000 (explicit and implicit costs) on enforcement. As for prevention, let’s say that on average each city/town/village in the US spends an amount equal to the salary of a single substance abuse counselor (about $50,000). This means that on average, each city/town/village spends $150,000 per year on enforcement and prevention. There are about 20,000 cities/towns/villages in the US. Together, these add up to around $3 billion.
  • Total: Conservatively, $4.14 billion in explicit and implicit costs. Based on arrest numbers, just under half of this money ($1.863 billion) aims at illegal drinking by people aged 18-21.
+$1.863 billion
Spending on incarceration would decrease. It costs about $25,000 to keep one person in state or local jail for one year. As we estimated above, the US arrests about 220,000 people a year for crimes related to underage drinking. Just under half of these (99,000) are people aged 18-21. We can imagine that this is roughly the size of the population that would go free if the drinking age fell to 18. We can also guesstimate that on average, for every 25 underage drinking arrests, police sentence 1 year of jail time. 1 yr jail time/25 arrests x 99,000 arrests x $25,000/yr jail time = $99 million. +$99 million
Police could address other crimes. Lowering the drinking age would free up a significant amount of police time, since underage drinking would no longer be a “top priority” for law enforcement. Presumably, this would increase the ability to address and prevent other costly crimes. For example, each robbery costs society $21,400. If lowering the drinking age freed up enough resources to prevent, on average, a single robbery in each city/town/village, this alone would save society $428 million. In all, new police priorities could save the country somewhere in the range of $1 billion. +$1 billion
Revenue from taxes on the alcohol industry would increase. State and local governments collect $50 billion from the alcohol industry, half of which comes from indirect taxes, such as corporate, personal income, property, and other taxes. Meanwhile, the federal government collects $9.7 billion in excise taxes. Presumably, it also collects roughly another $9.7 billion in other taxes on the alcohol industry. About 10% ($7 billion) of the combined total comes from under-21 drinking. If lowering the drinking age increased social costs by 5%, as we guessed above, it would also probably increase consumption by at least 5%. 5% of $7 billion is $350 million. +$350 million
Total +$3.312 billion

Lowering the drinking age might even be cost effective for states.

Federal highway funds represent so little money, they wouldn’t make much of a difference, compared to some of the other costs and savings we’ve looked at. To prove this point, let’s look at the case of North Carolina:

  • My extremely rough estimate puts the country ahead by $162 million if every state lowered its drinking age to 18. By population, North Carolina would account for $5.4 million of this. Bear in mind that it’s not the exact number that matters here, but the order of magnitude.
  • North Carolina’s total highway budget is $4.7 billion, 20% of which ($940 million) comes from the federal government. Since 2012, the percent congress threatens to withhold in the NMDAA decreased from 10% to 8% of federal highway funds. 8% of $940 million is $75 million.
  • By lowering its drinking age, North Carolina would run a deficit of around $69.6 million. This is only 0.16% of North Carolina’s budget, or 11.6% of its ordinary spending increase between 2015 and 2016.

The finances could easily work.

There are a lot of reasons to want to lower the drinking age. Finances could easily be one of them. Although the numbers I’ve presented here are highly speculative, I hope I’ve at least shown that lowering the drinking age could be cost-effective, even if states lost their federal highway funds. Even if most of these numbers turn out to be way off, I doubt the end result would be much different. Society could recover even a relatively large net loss by increasing alcohol taxes or DUI fines.

Activists in Massachusetts Make Progress in Lowering the Voting Age

Posted by on August 16th, 2017

Massachusetts map of towns lowering the voting age

In Massachusetts, two best friends made headway in the push to lower the voting age. Aaron Nelson and Max Carr passed articles in their hometowns of Ashfield and Shelburne, to lower the voting age to 16 for local elections. Carr has made a website explaining how lowering the voting age works. Their House of Representatives members have now introduced bills to allow these towns to lower the voting age. The bills are currently awaiting a public hearing before representatives vote on them.

We asked Max Carr a few questions about his project.

  • How are your efforts going? What stage of the process are you on right now?

Our efforts are going great. At this point we are finished with town meetings, and the three towns that have voted for this have sent petitions to their representatives in the Legislature. These representatives have now introduced bills in the House of Representatives that will allow their towns to lower their voting age. These bills have been referred to the Elections Committee and a public hearing will be held before they are voted on. If the bills pass, each town will make a final vote to amend their by-laws to allow sixteen-year-olds to vote.

  • What was your inspiration to try and lower the voting age to 16?

Mainly we were inspired by the very low turnout among young voters in recent elections. Young people will be affected most by many decisions made by our leaders, so we believe it is important that their voices are heard. By lowering the voting age we aim to allow citizens to develop voting habits at a young age, turning them into consistent voters throughout their lives.

  • What do you think is the biggest obstacle to your project?

Honestly, we have not run into many major obstacles so far, most people we talked to in our towns seem to be supportive of this. The hardest part now will be getting our bills through the legislature. We plan to spend a day in Boston talking to our representatives to convince them of the importance of this issue.

  • If you were completely successful in lowering the MA or even the US voting age, would this be enough to achieve your goal on this issue? Or is lowering the voting age only a step towards some larger goal that would require many projects like yours?

Lowering the voting age is just one of many ways we can increase turnout among young people and create a more educated electorate. Other projects that could have similar benefits would be efforts to expand civics education in our schools, make absentee voting easier, or eliminate the electoral college. With the right election reform policy we can ensure that our leaders are accountable to their constituents, lowering the voting age is only the start of this.

  • Your website has a form to fill out in the “Get Involved” section. What kinds of things would people be able to do to get involved? Is there any way non-Massachusetts residents can help?

We hope to get people in other towns and cities to push for the same change in their community. While we are focusing on Massachusetts right now, we would be glad to assist residents in other states in lowering their voting age. Many other towns in New England outside of Massachusetts have an “open town meeting” form of government, so the process will likely be very similar to ours.

Be sure to check out Carr’s website or contact NYRA if you want to get involved in the campaign to lower the voting age.

The National Youth Rights Association is dedicated to defending the freedom, equality, and rights of all young people by challenging age discrimination and prejudice.