Leonhardt on the Age Gap

Paul H. Rubin —  24 June 2012

In today’s New York Times David Leonhardt has a pretty amazing article.  He tells us that “polls suggest that Mitt Romney will win a landslide among the over-65 crowd and that President Obama will do likewise among those under 40.” He links to the Gallup Poll for this evidence. ( I generally don’t follow polls; I get my political forecasts from Intrade).

Without drawing any conclusions, the articled itself explains why this is amazing.  First, under this administration, as Leonhardt indicates  “the young are generally losing out to the old.”  With respect to Federal spending (where President Obama clearly favors more and Governor Romney less)  “more than 50 percent of federal benefits flow to the 13 percent of the population over 65”, largely through Social Security and Medicare.  Thus, the polling results are not driven by economics; they seem entirely driven by social issues such as gay marriage and immigration (which is of course actually an economic issue.)  Mankiw cites Niall Ferguson on the way in which the current generation is living at the expense of the young.

Many years ago James Kau and I wrote s series of articles showing that ideology was a major determinant of voting. (We actually measured ideology of Congress, rather than of individual voters.)  If one believes as I do that Romney’s policies will lead to more robust long term growth than Obama’s policies,then the Gallup results are a strong demonstration of the power of ideology over self interest.  But social policies can be changed; lost output cannot be recovered, and a lower growth rate will haunt current younger voters through their entire lives.

Paul H. Rubin


PAUL H. RUBIN is Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Economics at Emory University in Atlanta and formerly editor in chief of Managerial and Decision Economics. He blogs at Truth on the Market. He was President of the Southern Economic Association in 2013. He is a Fellow of the Public Choice Society and is associated with the Technology Policy Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Independent Institute. Dr. Rubin has been a Senior Economist at President Reagan's Council of Economic Advisers, Chief Economist at the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Director of Advertising Economics at the Federal Trade Commission, and vice-president of Glassman-Oliver Economic Consultants, Inc., a litigation consulting firm in Washington. He has taught economics at the University of Georgia, City University of New York, VPI, and George Washington University Law School. Dr. Rubin has written or edited eleven books, and published over two hundred and fifty articles and chapters on economics, law, regulation, and evolution in journals including the American Economic Review, Journal of Political Economy, Quarterly Journal of Economics, Journal of Legal Studies, and the Journal of Law and Economics, and he frequently contributes to the Wall Street Journal and other leading newspapers. His work has been cited in the professional literature over 8000 times. Books include Managing Business Transactions, Free Press, 1990, Tort Reform by Contract, AEI, 1993, Privacy and the Commercial Use of Personal Information, Kluwer, 2001, (with Thomas Lenard), Darwinian Politics: The Evolutionary Origin of Freedom, Rutgers University Press, 2002, and Economics, Law and Individual Rights, Routledge, 2008 (edited, with Hugo Mialon). He has consulted widely on litigation related matters and has been an adviser to the Congressional Budget Office on tort reform. He has addressed numerous business, professional, policy, government and academic audiences. Dr. Rubin received his B.A. from the University of Cincinnati in 1963 and his Ph.D. from Purdue University in 1970.

One response to Leonhardt on the Age Gap


    Bear in mind that this is an article in the NYTimes, a publication that bears no more than an accidental connection with consensual reality.

    Second, ideology is hard to define and harder to measure. This months partisan talking points bear absolutely no relation to any coherent set of political ideas (if anybody ever sees Harold Koh again, ask him). Further only a vanishingly small number of people possess anything resembling an ideology. (I have, in my time, gone through deep polling data looking for connections between issues and more general ideas — they do not exist) Finally, the political parties change sides on issues on a regular basis. Expect that to continue. The work of putting together a coalition is difficult and flexibility is a virtue.

    What most people have is memberships in various associations (one might say tribes) from which they derive political postures. E.g. Black people back President Obama. When he was playing a moderate in 2008, they were unanimous and enthusiastic. But, to be elected President, he needs the backing of many tribes. That can trench on his ability to keep his base in line. Some blacks are discomfited by Obama’s gay marriage stance, but they won’t vote against him, but the enthusiasm may go down. (his risk on immigration is even bigger, but conventional analysts will not say a word about it.)

    Third, the young are a pseudo tribe, and they have been for years. But, everybody was young once, and the tribal bonds between young people fray quickly and are soon replaced by other more important ties. Family, locality, profession, religion, are among those that grow stronger over the years.