Young people, ever more marginalised, should get global youth work visas to enable them to participate in solving our increasingly transnational problems
As the World Economic Forum opens in Davos, one subject of discussion has already clearly emerged. Young people are hurting and they are hurting on a global scale.
They have on average been made poorer by the global financial crisis and in many countries, especially rich ones, their number is shrinking. Democratic legitimacy is waning and an already widespread disconnect between youth and formal politics keeps on growing. Many seem to have become accustomed to being treated offhandedly – increasing numbers don’t even bother voting – and a storm is brewing. The next big clash might be not civilisational, religious or cultural, but generational.
Young people understand instinctively that the world’s greatest problem is one of governance, and its root is the nation state. The nation state was invented over the course of centuries and will not disappear rapidly. Nor should it. It played and continues to play a structuring role in helping humans evolve from a familial, tribal or regional identity to a broader understanding of belonging.
It is, however, still a phase in our development and should be seen as such, rather than as the be-all and end-all of governance.
Young people are fully aware of the naivety of hoping that leaders elected for four to eight years will tackle long-term problems such as global warming or the plight of youth adequately. They well understand that, by definition, narrow national interests carry far too much weight.
Because the solutions to the world’s gravest problems in the coming years will be transnational, we need people to move. Migrants, historically, have proven themselves to be the most innovative and creative people as they look for ways to bridge cultural and technology gaps. When people move, they bring the best ideas from one place and adapt them to the practices of another. This is not to say that sedentary populations are not inventive, but it means that migrants have a unique third party view of regional practices and can critique and analyse them in a way that is more susceptible to change.
Most young people around the world, however, are trapped inside national boundaries. To get over this, we should establish a global youth work visa that allows young people from any country to apply to be part of a cohort allowed to work for up to two years in the country of their choice. Only in this way will we begin to create the global citizens the world so sorely needs.
In terms of governance, real solutions will come from transnational bodies made up of civil society representatives selected along geographical, generational and gender lines rather than national ones. Experimentation in this domain has already begun. The 2004 British Columbia citizens’ assembly on electoral reform, made up of 160 “semi-randomly” selected people, was stratified by age and sex.
In Iceland, following the 2008 financial crash and the subsequent “pots and pans” revolution, the government established a national assembly to write a new constitution. Parliament selected 100 people randomly from the national register, using stratified sampling to ensure gender, age and regional balance in discussions about what should be included in a new constitution.
A 25-member constitutional council was then formed, which included a diverse selection of citizens including a farmer, priest, nurse, philosopher and theatre director as well as lawyers, political scientists and politicians, to write the new constitution. A web-based interface allowed the public to read and comment on the proceedings. The council agreed the final bill unanimously in just four months.
Of course these examples have only limited value. But value they hold, and technology is making them increasingly scalable. Young people react differently to climate change as they do to many global issues. Their take is less contingent on national considerations. They aren’t seeking re-election. They do not own stock in major oil companies or global shipping companies.
Nor is this about youth per se. Our future lies in their hands of the millennials who will be charged with implementing the complex policies created by people who are long gone before they are put into practice. If they do not agree with the policies, they simply won’t be implemented. Mechanisms such as a global youth visa and transnational voting along geographical, generational and gender lines rather than solely national ones will help empower youth to be part of these solutions.