What if we instituted *maximum* ages for legislative office?

oldpeople

When we’re younger, we’re better at fresh thinking. When we’re older, we’re better at contextual thinking. So why don’t we operate our world like we know that?

A struggling economy-backed entrepreneurship craze and a fast-paced period of consumer technology advancement have conspired to create an age that celebrates youth. But while I find being in my 20s beneficial in fitting into this era, I still find many of my peers struggling to break through what amounts to intern syndrome — being passed over for leadership roles in existing organizations and institutions because they don’t look the part.

Similarly, the stories of people near retirement losing their jobs, sometimes simply because they seem the most expendable are heart-wrenching. It seems we could be a lot savvier about age.

There are periods and roles and industries and times that need the steadying influence of cumulative wisdom and there are times when you need a radical look at a broken system. Do you want new perspective or level-headed wisdom? If you’re going to allow age to inform your assumptions about someone, then it should be more driven by that awareness than what has been done before.

I think specifically about our U.S. Congress, which is collectively among the oldest it has ever been, and for all their wisdom allowed extreme elements to hijack the process.

Despite the relatively young age requirements — 25 for the U.S. House, 30 for the Senate, 35 for U.S. President and younger still in many state houses — our incumbent loyalty and cultural expectations for our leaders is responsible for fewer than 1 in 10 of our federal elected leaders being under 40 in recent years.

Maybe a class of elected officials would do well to be substantially younger, to bring in innovative thinking, and then surrounded by trusted, experienced advisers who could offer the context and narrative. Rather than minimum age requirements, perhaps we should endorse maximum age requirements.

Say, you can’t be older than 45 to hold public office. It would encourage a kind of action-driven and collaborative mindset by way of a ticking tock that looks a lot like an up or out system. The system would mean you’d be called to public service and then have to go out into the world, rather than staying in office for life.

Let the young and idealistic lead — supported heavily by valuable insight of a more knowledgeable network — and then move on to new roles. Let the more experienced play the role of providing advice and guidance, not embracing change and following changing norms.

Check some academic research on the creativity of age questions here and here.