Thursday, January 24, 2013

Quote of the Week (Japan Edition)

I wanted to pull this week's Quote of the Week from Arnold Schwarzenegger's Q&A on Reddit last week, I really, really did. The concept of 1,000 duck-sized Predators is just too great to not mention, and I couldn't get that mental image out of my head all week. Brilliant stuff.

But I decided instead to give the honor to Japan's new Finance Minister (their 11th since 2007!) Taro Aso, whose brutal bout of honesty this week added a neat little twist onto Japan's growing fiscal problems (and demographic nightmare). In a statement that is almost certainly intended directly for the ears of Jiroemon Kimura, the oldest man in recorded history, Aso uttered a phrase (well, a few of them, really) that you might end up hearing a lot of around the world over the coming decades...


"Taro Aso 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.'

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.

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."
                                                     - Justin McCurry; Guardian

So, first of all, it needs to be said that this dude is completely off his rocker. If you read Mish Shedlock's whole piece, you'll see that Aso has previously made bizarre off-color remarks about Jews, Taiwanese, and blue-eyed U.S. diplomats, so clearly he has a habit of saying outlandish things to provoke a reaction (sort of like another economist we all know and love).

That said, this little moment of honesty might hit just a little close to home for all of us here in America. Our Medicare costs are already projected to go through the roof over the coming decades, in large part because we continue to refuse to have difficult conversations about end-of-life care (specifically, how much is it worth to keep somebody alive for an extra year at age 65, versus at age 75, versus at age 85? Is there an infinite value? A declining value? Do we even begin to know?).

We can choose to spend an infinite amount of money to keep a person (any person) alive for another day, and hospitals and doctors will surely be glad to dispense those services as long as somebody (i.e. the taxpayer) is willing to pay. But sooner or later, we simply can't afford to do so for everybody, and we have to have that difficult little conversation with each other. Japan is having it now; it's coming our way sooner than you might think.

[Mish Shedlock]

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