Alexander and Porus by Charles Le Brun, 1673

The Youthful Old World

Alexander The Great was 20, Lord Nelson was 12, and Pitt The Younger was 24.

William Pitt the Younger is the youngest British Prime Minister in history and the second longest serving, he held the position for a combined almost 19 years. He also held the position of Chancellor of the Exchequer for all of his premiership, he passed the India Act of 1784 which brought the East India Companys rule in India under the direct control of the British government and also passed the Act of Union 1800 which united the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland. He died in office at the age of 46. The current PM Rishi Sunak is 42 years old.

Alexander The Great became King after his father’s death at the age of 20, he himself died just 12 years later at the age of 32. The King of Macedonia and Persia, he established the largest empire the ancient world had ever seen, and he has become one of history’s greatest leaders and military strategists. He never lost a battle in his life.

Lord Nelson joined the British Navy as an apprentice at the lowest rank, but was given his own ship and awarded the title of Captain at just 20 years old. Nelson enjoyed a series of victories and solidified himself as a British hero in 1805 by winning the Battle of Trafalgar against the French, but dying at the age of 47 in the battle.

All some of the most famous individuals in history, and all below the age of 25, nobody today could envision having a Prime Minister who was twenty-four years old, or a 20-year-old navy Captain.

Britain’s leaders today are old, the average age of an MP has been around 50 years of age since 1979. The average of members in the House of Lords is even worse, at 71 years of age. In America, the average age of a senator in Congress is 64.3 years old, and the average age of a House member is 58.4. In terms of wealth distribution by age, the ONS data reports on average that individual wealth increases with age, ‘peaking in the 60-to-64 age group at a level nine times as high as the 30-to-34 age group‘. This may be obvious and to be expected, but is it productive for a nation if the wealthiest people in the country are older? In the worlds billionaires, 40.4% are over 70, 49.1% are between the ages of 50 and 70, and only 10.5% are under 50. For the first time ever, millennials and zoomers are earning less than their parents were at their age.

Life expectancy in Britain is around 80 years of age, so you may ask, well what age is young? If 80 is the average age of death, 40 would be middle-aged. Under 35 is young.

Dwarkesh Patel writes about the mystery of the miracle year which is a pattern that ‘recurs across the careers of great scientists: an annus mirabilis (miracle year) in which they make multiple, seemingly independent breakthroughs in the span of a single year or two‘. These miracle years generally happen during a scientist’s 20s, Isaac Newton developed the theory of gravity when he was just 22. Patel concludes ‘Perhaps there’s a brief window in a person’s life where he has the intelligence, curiosity, and freedom of youth but also the skills and knowledge of age‘.

This is not at all to say 20-year-olds ran societies up until the last hundred years, but by virtue of the lack of modern medicine and the emphasis on healthcare and longevity, young people were given a much more important role in the governance and administration of their nation as most people didn’t live anywhere near as long. Their input was valued and they were given the respect and chance to prove themselves. A 12-year-old Nelson in 2022 trying to join the Navy, well you don’t need me to tell you how that would go.

I am also not saying that anyone over the age of 40 should be shut out of decision-making, but far more weightage is given to those who are older, whilst younger people are shut out and shut down. I do subscribe to the view that people don’t really change and when the same people with the same ideas hold positions of power for decades, positions that they may have held from their middle age, nothing changes, and actually things often decline. Take the example of mortgage rate rises in Britain recently, furore and anger were driven by mortgage rates that are to increase by a couple of percentage points, the front pages were dominated by the story and Conservative MPs kicked out the Prime Minister responsible. But private rents have been rising for the past decade and are now at record highs with renting being more expensive than paying a mortgage, but politicians (who don’t rent as the taxpayer pays for their London rent) haven’t lifted a finger. Those with mortages preominantly skew older, the average age is around 34, are given more focus than those who rent. If young people have little disposable income, and therefore little freedom, their contributions and progression to and for society diminish.

Elevating young people won’t magically solve all of our issues, and it won’t even mean issues that young people face will be granted greater importance. The MP Nadia Whittome is the youngest MP in the House of Commons, having been elected at the age of 23 in 2019. Nadia chooses to spend most of her time it appears on issues of race and going viral on Twitter, hardly Joan of Arc, who died a martyr at the age of 19.

Alas, if there is no youth, there is no future. A nation cannot survive if it does not nurture and elevate its young people. They will just leave, as they are doing. 1 in 3 of those between the ages of 16 and 35 are considering leaving Britain to look for work elsewhere, higher salary, better standards of living and quality of life are almost always guaranteed to reign supreme.

It is great that people are living longer, what isn’t so great is that they are using their age to cling on to things that need an injection of the new and youthful.

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