Japanese demographics are alarming as Finance Minister tells elderly to “Hurry up and die”

The demographic strains in Japan are beginning to tell. They face a shrinking population and an increasing proportion of the elderly and without measures to increase the productive proportion of the population the situation is not sustainable. That the problems are not in some long distant future but are already exercising the minds of the current administration shows in the outburst from the new Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, Taro Aso, when he exhorted the elderly to “Hurry up and Die”

The Japanese deputy prime minister Taro Aso kicked up a storm of controversy Monday with his comments on the financial burden the elderly place on society. 

The 72-year old finance minister said elderly should be allowed to “hurry up and die” at a meeting of the National Council on Social Security reforms, hoping to ease the financial strain caused by an aging population where fertility rates are low and the economy is struggling. Heaven forbid if you are forced to live on when you want to die,” Aso said. “You cannot sleep well when you think it’s all being paid for by the government.” 

“This won’t be solved unless you let them hurry up and die.” …. Aso is no stranger to controversy: the former prime minister once said he wanted to make Japan the kind of country where “the richest Jews would want to live,” and compared the opposition to the Nazis.

But the fact is that he is the first politician who has dared to defy political correctness – his subsequent apology notwithstanding – and address what is likely to be Japan’s most serious challenge within the next decade. It is a challenge that is going to come to dominate the realities in Europe as well. In the US – and in some countries in Europe –  it is the continuing immigration into the ranks of the productive population which helps to keep this challenge a little further away in the future. In any event it will be population decline that is the global issue within one hundred years. Globally the proportion of productive population to elderly population will not be so wrong – but it will be too low where population is declining unless active measures to keep this in balance are taken.

The latest data from the Japanese National Institute of Population show why Aso is so alarmed. The projections for the next few years of the rate at which the productive population is declining are alarming.

Aso’s outburst is not palatable or feasible but there are only 4 basic ways to address this issue:

  1. reduce the proportion of elderly requiring support 
  2. increase the birth rate,
  3. allow immigration to bolster the productive part of the population , and
  4. increase the age at which the elderly get support from the state

Increasing the birth rate is a long term measure and that assuming that birth rate can be increased. In the short term it has to be immigration into the productive portion of the population which can have an effect (assuming of course that they can contribute to growth).

But before the demographic challenge can be addressed it has to be acknowledged and maybe Aso’s outburst – unpleasant as it is – will bring the issue to the table.

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