Japanese minister: Let the elderly hurry up and die already

Revealingly, he’s the country’s finance minister.

A quick bit of googling reveals that people think he was talking about letting elderly patients who don’t want to linger in the hospital choose assisted suicide. Could be, but the country’s debt-to-GDP ratio is over 200 percent and, thanks to its appalling birthrate, more than 40 percent of the population will be elderly 50 years from now. If he’s thinking of this in terms of the national bottom line, he’ll need an awful lot of elderly “volunteers” to help cut costs.

“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,” [Taro Aso] 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.”…

Rising welfare costs, particularly for the elderly, were behind a decision last year to double consumption [sales] tax to 10% over the next three years, a move Aso’s Liberal Democratic party supported…

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.

Cost aside, caring for the elderly is a major challenge for Japan’s stretched social services. According to a report this week, the number of households receiving welfare, which include family members aged 65 or over, stood at more than 678,000, or about 40% of the total.

He said later that he was only stating his personal preference, not floating a new policy idea for Japan’s health-care system, but c’mon. You can’t have this conversation in the context of welfare expenditures and not have policy in mind. This isn’t even the first time he’s grumbled publicly about elderly Japanese in poor health sucking up the country’s revenue. Per the Guardian, five years ago — when he was prime minister — he said, “I see people aged 67 or 68 at class reunions who dodder around and are constantly going to the doctor. Why should I have to pay for people who just eat and drink and make no effort? I walk every day and do other things, but I’m paying more in taxes.” Right, but one of the purposes of a welfare regime is to protect people from their own poor choices. Now the bill has to be paid. What to do? The options seem … familiar somehow:

Economists and government officials say that Japan, in the coming years, will probably raise the retirement age, again increase taxes and trim spending on everything from education to defense, all to care for its elderly.

Young Japanese — those entering the workforce amid two decades of stagnation — will face the greatest burden: They will earn less in real terms than their parents, pay higher pension premiums, receive fewer social services and, eventually, retire with a less-generous pension package.

And that’s the best-case scenario, experts say, possible only if a notoriously fractious government succeeds in pushing through a series of unpopular measures.

Decades of good policy “can avoid a crisis,” said Masatoshi Katagiri, an economist at Chuo University, but living standards will erode. “Either way,” he said, “it will be gloomy.”

Those of you who think Obama doesn’t believe in American exceptionalism should read that again and then watch O’s inaugural speech yesterday. It’s more accurate to say that no one believes in American exceptionalism quite as much as he does.

Exit question: In 100 years, Japan’s going to be a Chinese colony populated by one guy and about 10 million robots, isn’t it?