I hadn’t actually run across this character before so I thought perhaps some of our readers might not have had him on their radar either. His name is Yusuke Narita and he’s a professor of economics at Yale with a very large social media following in both the United States and his native Japan. But his theories on debt, inflation or interest rates aren’t what draw so much attention. Though his specialty is supposed to be economics, Dr. Narita seems to spend a great deal of time pondering the issue of falling birth rates and increasing life spans, particularly in Japan. And he seems to believe that he knows the answer. That would be “mass suicide and mass seppuku of the elderly.” And he talks about it a lot. This guy is so far out there on the fringe of this topic that even the very liberal New York Times described him by saying “his pronouncements could hardly sound more drastic.”
In interviews and public appearances, Yusuke Narita, an assistant professor of economics at Yale, has taken on the question of how to deal with the burdens of Japan’s rapidly aging society.
“I feel like the only solution is pretty clear,” he said during one online news program in late 2021. “In the end, isn’t it mass suicide and mass ‘seppuku’ of the elderly?” Seppuku is an act of ritual disembowelment that was a code among dishonored samurai in the 19th century.
Last year, when asked by a school-age boy to elaborate on his mass seppuku theories, Dr. Narita graphically described to a group of assembled students a scene from “Midsommar,” a 2019 horror film in which a Swedish cult sends one of its oldest members to commit suicide by jumping off a cliff.
In another interview, Narita suggested there might be an alternative for those without the will to take their own life. That would be euthanasia. And if the elderly person in question is still being stubborn? No problem. “The possibility of making [euthanasia] mandatory in the future will come up in discussion.”
After being called out on these positions in the mainstream press, Narita appeared to try to walk back his statements, claiming that he had been “taken out of context.” He claimed his comments were more of a metaphor for “addressing a growing effort to push the most senior people out of leadership positions in business and politics — to make room for younger generations.”
Really? That’s one heck of a metaphor. And in the original interviews, he doesn’t mention anything about the growing gerontocracy in Japan, which is certainly a valid concern. Japan has the oldest population of any country in the world aside from Monaco. The birth rate there is far too low and there are very serious questions about how long it will be before the country’s retirement pension programs will collapse.
But there’s a very big difference between expressing concern over how to care for a growing population of elderly citizens and suggesting that they all go shove a sword into their bowels. The problem is that he has managed to attract a very large online following in Japan, with many of his young followers echoing calls to find a way to clear out the old folks to make room for the next generation.
This sounds like some dangerous terrain to be treading. I hold the frequently unpopular libertarian view that people facing horribly painful, incurable diseases should be able to cut that process short if that’s their wish. But pushing an entire generation to check out simply because they are “too old” is pretty monstrous. Further, you never want to get the government involved in such decisions. We’re already seeing where that path leads in Canada. I don’t know what the best solution is for the aging population issues facing Japan and, increasingly, the United States as well. But I’m pretty confident that Yusuke Narita isn’t the one with the answer either.