“The truth is like poetry. And most people f**king hate poetry.” The Big Short
An entirely minor political poem of mine from almost five years ago is beginning to sound more predictive than sarcastic. Any sort of “Final Economy-Boosting Solution” is not the future I want to see.
And yet…we are living in a time when influential people suggest, for real, that elders should sacrifice themselves–should die– for the sake of the economy. Those voices are getting louder and much more alarming.
Yusuke Narita, an economics professor at Yale, has repeatedly advocated for mass suicide of older people. Today the New York Times offered this evidence.
“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.
It may seem like one professor isn’t likely to have an impact, but Dr. Narita has over 569 thousand followers on his mostly Japanese-language Twitter account. He is also a popular guest on television, and friendly with several wealthy young Japanese entrepreneurs.
Japan’s economic problems have been blamed on low birth rates and longer-lived adults, a situation increasingly common across the industrialized world. Kill-the-elderly opinions may boost shock-based ratings, but rapacious capitalism has increasingly burdened young people with untenable work hours, low pay, exploding housing costs, and unaffordable childcare.
Dr. Narita’s fantasy of matricide may go back to his mother’s brain injury when he was 19, which left him with the unwelcome financial burden of contributing to her care. Maybe counseling would be a better outlet for his bitterness. Or actually working toward sustainable solutions to invigorate a country’s workforce by advocating for paid training and education, workplace policies friendly to parents, and welcoming immigrants.
Instead, on a recent show, he answered a schoolboy’s question about forced elder suicide by saying “If you think that’s good, then maybe you can work hard toward creating a society like that.” He has also speculated about making euthanasia mandatory.
How close are some in the U.S. to these views?
In the pandemic’s early days of March 2020, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick suggested the demographic most endangered by Covid-19 should be willing to lose their lives for the sake of the economy. “Let’s get back to living,” he said in a Fox News interview, “…those of us who are 70-plus, we’ll take care of ourselves, but don’t sacrifice the country.” Conservative pundits agreed, including Tucker Carlson, Glenn Beck, and Brit Hume. Lt. Gov. Patrick doubled down in April, saying “I’m sorry to say that I was right on this.” At that time, 495 had lost their lives. As of today, 93,699 people have died in Texas from Covid. Across the U.S., the vast majority of Covid deaths have been among those 50 and up, with mortality increasing by age.
This doesn’t include those suffering with long Covid. The CDC says one out of every five people who tested positive for Covid experienced or continue to experience symptoms such as cognitive problems, dizziness, depression, heart palpitations, heart attacks, fatigue, pain, digestive issues, blood clots, strokes, shortness of breath, unexplained fevers, and more. As many as four million people are currently unable to work due to long Covid. The mean age of long Covid sufferers is 40.5 years old with the largest demographic hit aged 36 to 50. Sacrificing for the economy, at any age, doesn’t work here on a planet where all of us are inextricably interconnected.
Here’s the poem I mentioned. It was published by Tuck Magazine in April 2018 and recently reprinted in Mad As Hell: An Anthology of Angry Poetry. Please, let’s not get any closer to this being true.
Final Economy-Boosting Solution
Our privatized Congress really is making America great again.
Who’d have thought the Productive Adult Initiative,
complete with elder joycamps, would work so well?
Consumer confidence is volcanic.
Health care costs, barely a budget blip.
For the first time trickle down works,
a fricking waterfall, old to young.
No more elderly folks shuffling through store aisles,
clogging the roads, saving for a rainy day.
No feel-good stories about some couple married 70 years.
And all those pricey assisted living complexes,
now the place to be for young creatives.
I mean come on, studio rent and chef-driven meals
with services galore. What’s not to like?
Plus, you don’t have to go home for the holidays
or write thank you notes to your Great Aunt Irena.
Though you do miss her pastries, warm from the oven.
And your children can’t remember her accent,
or the handkerchief she used to wipe tears
from her soft crinkled face. Sometimes you think
answers to questions you forgot to ask
might be the greatest wealth.
But hey, nothing’s better than
consumer spending power, am I right?
Laura Grace Weldon