There are two stories here. The first is what happened in Japan. The second is how the UK’s Guardian reported it.
What happened in Japan is simple enough:
“Japan’s new government is barely a month old, and already one of its most senior members has insulted tens of millions of voters by suggesting that the elderly are an unnecessary drain on the country’s finances. Taro Aso, the finance minister, said on Monday that the elderly should be allowed to ‘hurry up and die’ to relieve pressure on the state to pay for their medical care. ‘Heaven forbid if you are forced to live on when you want to die. I would wake up feeling increasingly bad knowing that [treatment] was all being paid for by the government,’ he said during a meeting of the national council on social security reforms. ‘The problem won’t be solved unless you let them hurry up and die.’”
So, in a country that has given promises regarding to its citizens about retirement—promises that it can’t possibly keep—an extremely rich and powerful politician is openly calling for those aging citizens to die to lower the tax rate.
So here is the Guardian’s analysis:
“Aso’s comments are likely to cause offence in Japan, where almost a quarter of the 128 million population is aged over 60. The proportion is forecast to rise to 40% over the next 50 years.”
That is ridiculous. Aso’s comments are not simply a matter of offense but a real cause for fear. He just threatened the lives of about thirty percent of Japanese citizens. He said he wants them to die sooner, in order to solve the government’s budget problems. This would mean he wants, at least, to start denying services.
It gets worse:
“To compound the insult, he referred to elderly patients who are no longer able to feed themselves as ‘tube people.’ The health and welfare ministry, he added, was ‘well aware that it costs several tens of millions of yen’ a month to treat a single patient in the final stages of life.”
A couple of points here: If you want to kill someone or a group of people, you commonly find you need to depersonalize them with your words. Terms like “tube people” are necessary. This is not just about insulting people; it is about preparing oneself to accept massive loss of life for human beings that you have decided do not matter.
Secondly, as expensive as the extreme form of end-of-life care is, Aso’s comments about such hospitalized people are similar to Obama’s rhetoric about taxing “billionaires.” Obama used this rhetoric not to simply raise taxes on billionaires (assuming they pay taxes at all), but to raise taxes on people who were not even millionaires. Likewise, Aso knows that the demographic winter that Japan is facing means that the nation’s financial problems go far beyond the few at the very end of life who end up depending on feeding tubes.
The financial and demographic realities do mean that Japanese welfare is going to have to suffer drastic cuts. The money is running out and the default on the massive debt is coming. But it is one thing to admit to harsh economic reality and try to do one’s best to care for people who can no longer care for themselves (especially when you misled them into thinking their future was secure). It is another thing entirely to try to keep up the image of one’s nation as “great” by morally condemning the very people whom your government hoodwinked into trusting it, and saying they deserve to die.
The fact that the Guardian is so calm about this development doesn’t bode well for how these economic problems are going to be handled in the West.