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Intergenerational Justice in Comparison across the OECD

By Pieter Vanhuysse

September 6, 2013

The future needs more than a pinky swear.

INTRODUCTION by Daniel Schraad-Tischler and Najim Azahaf

How well do OECD member states live up to the principles of intergenerational justice? How clearly can such principles be measured? And how can cross-national comparisons help foster improved strategizing in policymaking?

The study presented here by Pieter Vanhuysse provides answers to these questions. It is conceived as an evidence-based contribution to a debate often marked by polemics rather than reasoned scholarly analysis. Intergenerational justice is a complex and politically controversial hot-button issue. But pitting the interests of older generations against those of younger generations should not be exploited for political purposes. We need instead to consider objective, empirical information regarding existing imbalances in order to address their associated injustices.

Without claiming to be empirically or theoretically exhaustive, this study offers some crucial insights and key empirical indicators relevant to the discourse on intergenerational justice in aging societies. As is the case with all complex social matters—and intergenerational justice ranks among the most complex—achieving a full measure of social reality that is at once concise and readily understandable as well as precise and comprehensive, is a rather utopian aim.

With this in mind, the study presented here focuses on providing a readily understandable measure and illustration of findings derived from a set of clearly identifiable indicators addressing the three core principles of sustainability. The indicators comprising the Intergenerational Justice Index (IJI) represent important environmental, economic-fiscal and social aspects of this highly complex subject.

The IJI study was conducted within the contex of the Bertelsmann Stiftung's Sustainable Governance Indicators (SGI) project, which has been examining since 2009 OECD member states' performance in sustainable governance.

Focusing on intergenerational justice exclusively, the IJI addresses an important topic within the broader discussion of sustainability. It does so by assessing policy outcomes and the legacies—that is, the unfair burdens—they entail for future generations.

At the same time, it also examines the extent to which current socioeconomic policies in OECD countries reflect a bias toward today's older or younger generations. Given the fact that demographic developments in most OECD countries involve an increasingly larger and thus more powerful cohort of older voters, the findings and insights of this study are also highly relevant as regards the question of democracy itself.

How does this study differ from other approaches pursued to date? What new insights does it have to offer? For starters, where possible, the study sets policy outcomes in direct relationship to a country's demographic structure, and does so in quantifiable terms. This means, for example, when considering economic-fiscal aspects of intergenerational justice, the index looks not to national debt levels in absolute terms as a mortgage on the future, but public debt per child instead, that is, a country's national debt relative to its demographic structure.

Furthermore, the study's indicators offer compelling information about intergenerational imbalances in terms of social outcomes and policy measures. Expressed in ratios, these imbalances include poverty rates among children in relation to those among the elderly, and an innovative ratio of states' social spending patterns for older in relation to younger generations. Once again, Vanhuysse places each OECD state's spending pattern in the context of their respective demographic development.

The concept of an ecological footprint underlies the index's environmental dimension of intergenerational justice. An ecological footprint refers here to a measure of the negative impact left behind by a current generations' consumer behavior and productivity.

Drawing on these intuitively plausible indicators and taking into account the qualitative assessments of the SGI country reports (see, the study yields some interesting results useful in developing concrete policy recommendations that should, in many respects, resonate positively among different and even competing political parties.

In addition, Vanhuysse argues in favor of some rather provocative strategies that are offered here in the spirit of driving further critical debate.

External Link: CONTINUE READING: Intergenerational Justice in Aging Societies

Read More: Debt, Democracy, Economy, Environment, Ethics, Health, Human Rights, Sustainability, Youth

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