The Two Biggest Political Issues of the 2010s

right to die poll
Pew Research Poll, US, 2005

(I’m waiting for Jon Husband to OK my publishing of the podcast conversation and transcript I recorded with him last week. It should be up Monday. In the meantime, I’ve been meaning to get the following off my chest:)

What will the two biggest political issues of the 2010s be, worldwide? You might guess global warming (maybe in the 2020s), or oil price spikes or the collapse of the US dollar (they’ll be old news by the 2010s), or even, as I posted yesterday, outrage over wealth and income disparity. But you’d be wrong. My prediction? It all comes down to what touches people personally, and there are two issues that will touch us all personally in the 2010s:

  1. Immigration: This is a visceral emotional issue in every affluent nation on the planet, and it cuts surprisingly across party lines and ideologies. It is a vital means to ease the huge population, resource scarcity and environmental calamities arising in just about every struggling nation in Latin America, Africa and Asia. But the affluent nations will have none of it. Conservatives don’t want it because they see terrorists in every face that doesn’t look like theirs and speak their language (though they like the cheap labour). Labour doesn’t want it because it is perceived to threaten their jobs and wages. Environmentalists don’t want it because ecosystems can’t sustain even the domestic population much longer. Established immigrants don’t want it because they don’t want the competition and fear the backlash will engulf them as well. I don’t see any party, even the socialists, talking about an open immigration policy because they know it’s a political minefield. Parties that take a strong emotional anti-immigration stance, even one that is overtly racist, will do astonishingly well in the 2010s for this reason, and when they get elected they will bar the doors, create a global pressure cooker and produce an upsurge in racist violence at home. Opportunistic extremist politicians won’t be able to resist the temptation to fan the flames. 
  2. The Right to Die: The population in affluent nations is growing older at a rate perhaps unprecedented in history. At the same time, the rate of Alzheimer’s and other mental diseases of the aged is soaring, and an increasing proportion of the population, living ever longer, is living in constant or near-constant pain. And to complete the trifecta, the number of caregivers specialized in treating geriatric patients is actually declining, because it is unprestigious and unprofitable work. So we are going to have more and more people competing for less space and fewer resources in institutions for the aged, and increasingly these people will be suffering from dementias that linger for years, or be addicted for life to narcotic painkillers. Yet those old people who choose to end their own lives, or to assist others to do so, are and will be vilified by religious fanatics and meddling ultraconservative politicians. This issue is not going to go away, and it will, like immigration, polarize the population. It will make the abortion issue of the last half-century look insignificant by comparison. Elections will be won and lost over it.

What makes me believe this? It’s the undercurrents in the news even now. Like the story of the pro-immigration marches in the US last year, theresult of which was a strong increase in across-the-board support for tightening immigration laws, enforcement, amnesty programs and refugee admissions. Like the thinly-veiled xenophobic rhetoric in government pronouncements. Like the recurring stories of domestic murder-suicides that are not crimes of passion, but crimes of compassion. Like the stories of nursing homes becoming increasingly desperate and violent places, even before their coming population explosion.

Weak signals, growing stronger, and poised to overwhelm us, at least politically, in the decade to come.

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6 Responses to The Two Biggest Political Issues of the 2010s

  1. Krupo says:

    In the US immigration is a hot button issue, but I don’t see the same kind of attitudes going on in Canada.

  2. lugon says:

    Dave, thanks for the chart, and let’s see how it changes with time. I first started to look into exponential growth when I read a book I want to dig out again, called something like “Humankind’s metamorphosis” (this was many years ago and I can’t find the title on the internet, sorry); my first exposure to collapse of several kinds. Later, when looking at aging populations in some countries, I thought that it would make sense for a number of people to put an end to their own days in certain circumstances, and ventured that it would become regulated. Seeing the same idea in writing scares me a bit.Krupo, I guess there could be some “nice” systems-thinking simulations done, modelling pressures on both sides of semi-permeable membranes. While we’re at it, we could also add extra heat with even a minor flu pandemic.It hurts even to think about all this, but I wonder what is there past the pain, and what is it that we could do now?

  3. Doug Alder says:

    The right to self is the ultimate right. No government should have the right to interfere with a person’s determination to end their life. Anything less is conceding ownership of your life to someone else.Yes, suicide can and does devastate emotionally and often financially those who are left behind but in the end it comes down to who owns your life. The problem with using that as an argument against assisted suicide is that the way we have society structured today ending ones life must be carried out surreptitiously and it is the suddenness and often unsuspected nature of the act that causes the most harm. Authorities react and state that the cost to society to clean up after your death gives them the right to criminalize the act. It’s the criminalization of it that causes people to go to extreme measures, jumping off of bridges, stepping out in front of moving vehicles, “cop assisted” suicides, etc. and thus placing a burden on society. In that respect it is no different than the drug laws that create their own problem by trying to be a solution to the problem they create.The right to end one’s life when one chooses should be the most inalienable of all our rights.

  4. Chris Clukey says:

    Interesting post, David. Four questions:1. What are the details of the Pew poll? Which country? How many people? What demographics?2. You say “[A]n an increasing proportion of the population, living ever longer, is living in constant or near-constant pain.” Got a citation for that? Don’t get me wrong, I know old age is not for sissies, but given the advances we’ve made I think a cite is in order if you’re going to make the case that millions of people are in constant pain strong enough to make suicide a good option.3. You also say “[I]ncreasingly these people will be suffering from dementias that linger for years, or be addicted for life to narcotic painkillers.” Isn’t “narcotic” a loaded word here? The word has become associated in our two countries with the street user, and certainly an addiction is not any worse or better if it’s a narcotic addiction. If you doubt me, ask an alcoholic or a compulsive gambler.3. If these folks really are in the constant pain you describe and therefore need the drugs constantly, isn’t your statement sort of like saying that we should allow a 14 year old asthmatic to kill herself because she will otherwise suffer a life-long addiction to her inhaler? Why not kill hemophiliacs because of their “addiction” to clotting factors?4. Then there’s this: “Yet those old people who choose to end their own lives, or to assist others to do so, are and will be vilified by religious fanatics and meddling ultraconservative politicians.”My, that’s some overheated rhetoric. Looking at the issue with a clear eye, aren’t you? So, you must be a “religious fanatic” or a “meddler” to believe the following things?a. The changes required to make assissted suicide a viable option may grievously damage the legal and health care systems.b. The right to die may become the duty to die.c. Many terminal patients suffer from clinical depression and are therefore non compis mentis on this issue, so a law putting them in charge of it is a bad idea. (See this transcript for an example)Really, you have to be a nut or a power mad fiend to take those positions? That’s news to me.You are correct that this issue will be huge in the near future. I am sure I’m correct when I say that the demographic forces you mention are going to make the right to die into a duty to die. When that happens, I wonder which side you’ll be on…Perhaps we shouldn’t have convinced ourselves that killing 40 million little kids (in the USA alone) was a smart thing to do.

  5. Chris Clukey says:

    Oops, guess that was five questions! Shows what I know!

  6. Chris Clukey says:

    Doug, you said the following: “Authorities react and state that the cost to society to clean up after your death gives them the right to criminalize the act.”Really? I’ve been a complete news junkie for well over a quarter of a century now, and I can’t recall a single instance where a public official said we can’t legalize suicide because we might have to clean up a mess. Could you cite one for me? Of course, I figure you’d have to cite several to make your case anything but silly, but one will do.C’mon, you can do it. One public official opposing assisted suicide because it might cause people to off themselves by jumping in front of city buses. Just one.

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