Were the pandemic of our times the subject of a novel rather than reality, it would surely be premised on a scheme to kill old people to eliminate their burden on the young.
That the young of the First World have been increasingly burdened by the old in recent decades is a given. An ever-growing number of pensioners has put ever more pressure on a relatively smaller number of young workers.
“As lifespans in first-world countries have gone up, birth rates have gone down,” researchers for the World Economic Forum have noted. NBC News in 2003 well described the fallout from this in Italy, Europe’s oldest country:
“The math is grim: Italians, Europe’s oldest population, are now living 30 to 40 years beyond retirement. But Italians make only 1.3 babies per couple, a record European low. The potential workforce, therefore, is shrinking at the same time that the number of needy pensioners is on the rise.
“It amounts to a demographic time bomb….”
That was then; this is now. The time bomb has exploded in a wholly unexpected way. According to the Italian actuarial firm Crenca & Associati, Covid-19, the sometimes deadly disease caused by the new SARS-CoV-2 virus blew away a large number of pensioners:
“Under many aspects 2020 was an extraordinary year, and for the Italian Pension System, it was no different. During the year, 746,146 deaths were registered, the highest number since the end of World War II. Compared to the yearly average deaths recorded for the years 2015-2019, equal to 645,620, there was an “excess mortality” of 100,526 units (15.6% more). Of those, 96.3% were people aged 65 or more. Thus, this phenomenon had a direct effect on the INPS (National Institute for Social Security) balance sheet and specifically on the forecast of the pensions amount to be paid for the years 2020-2029, which was lowered by more than 11 billion euros.”
That’s $11 billion euros (about $12 billion at today’s exchange rate) that the Italian government doesn’t need to take out of the pockets of the Italian working class to support retirees. In the short term, the pandemic has caused economic chaos by disrupting markets worldwide.
But in the long term, it could help ease some of what researchers employed by the European Trade Union Confederation described in a lengthy economic analysis last year as the “intergeneration clash between younger generations in need for help and older generations with unsustainable social (and pension) rights.”
Suffice it to say, there is plenty of motive for the young to want to be rid of the old in the modern world.
Not only are the young increasingly forced to pay to support the old, but they are saddled with the inherent push-pull between jobs and retirement. The longer the old stay in their jobs, the more they block the upward movement of the young; but the sooner the old retire, the more younger workers must pay to support them in their leisure years.
Social security in the U.S. is a classic example of the problem.
When President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed it into law in the summer of 1935, it was intended to pay for the retirement of workers 65 years old and older at a time when U.S. life expectancy predicted the average American would be dead by that age. Life expectancy at the time was 63.9 for women and only 59.9 for men.
Not only that, the younger U.S. population was steadily growing and set to explode into the future. As the Great Depression drew toward an end, the population growth rate went from 0.69 percent in 1935 to almost 1 percent in 1941 and continued to grow even during World War II before exploding after the war.
The rate topped 2 percent in 1950. It has been generally falling since 1960 and hit 0.5 percent in 2019, the year before the pandemic began, according to the World Bank, but that number is somewhat misleading in that a growing number of old people living longer masks the reality of the demographic shift.
Americans over the age of 65 comprised 9 percent of the U.S. population in 1960; they now make up 17 percent. The working population of Americans has not kept pace.
This is not a good thing given that Social Security is basically a pyramid scheme that taxes the young at the bottom of the pyramid to support the old at the top. This worked fine when the pyramid had a broad base. It becomes a problem when the structure starts to look like “The Shard,” a new landmark skyscraper in London.
Unfortunately what was once a broad-based U.S. retirement system has an increasingly narrower base. The 5.1 workers supporting each Social Security beneficiary in 1960 has shrunk to 2.8 now, according to research conducted by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, which describes the program as “on unsound footing.
“Social Security’s combined trust funds are projected to be depleted by 2035 – just 13 years from now,” it noted in August. ‘When the trust funds are depleted, benefits will be limited by the income assigned to the program and absent changes to law, benefits would be reduced by 20 percent.”
“…There are many available solutions to ensure Social Security’s solvency,” the Foundation added hopefully: “raising the retirement age, decreasing the program’s benefits, or increasing revenues dedicated to the program; pursuing all in combination would likely provide the most lasting and least painful adjustment for the future.”
The Foundation left out the easiest option, reducing the number of retirees or those “units” as Italian actuaries described them or “elders” as the Inuit still call them. The historic Inuit handling of elders who could no longer support themselves is invariably now romanticized as people sacrificing themselves for the good of the family or demonized as the murder of the aged when the practice was really nothing more, or less, than the acceptance of practical realities.
When there are too many people in a sinking boat, someone has to go or the boat will go down and kill everyone. The Inuit were not the only ones who understood this as author Justin Nobel, writing at Tin House, describes in detailing his search for Japan’s “Granny-dump Mountain:”
“Killing the elderly is called senicide, and Japan was not the only culture once familiar with the practice. In India, the Padaeans put to death old people and ate them while in North Africa, Troglodyte elders no longer able to tend their flocks asphyxiated themselves by fastening the tail of an ox around their necks. The Bactrians, who inhabited present-day northern Afghanistan, threw the old and sick out into the streets, where they were eaten by dogs. The Derbiccae, who lived east of the Caspian Sea, murdered males at age 70 and ate them; women were merely strangled and buried. The Heruli of Germany stabbed elders and burnt them on a pyre. In southern France, the Ligurians threw their parents, when they were no longer useful because of old age, off a cliff.”
The Inuit were simply cursed to be still engaged in senicide when the “civilized” folks who write things down came around to record their activities for history. The Danish explorer Knud Rasmussen was one of those people in the 1920s.
“I made exhaustive enquiries as to the treatment of the aged, and the only case of heartlessness that I came across was that of an old woman by the name of Kigtaq, ”who was regularly left out on the ice in midwinter, clad only in a thin inner jacket and no thick, warm outer coat,” he would eventually write.
He asked a hunter name Samik why Kigtaq was so treated and got a rather long answer:
“No one here among us wishes harm to old people. We ourselves might be old some day. Perhaps there are those among us who think Arfeq might take more care of his mother-in-law, particularly by giving her better clothes. But others excuse Arfeq, in that he has been so unlucky in his hunting that he has barely been able to procure furs for his wife and his children, and people think he must first and foremost attend to them; for not only are they more closely related to him, but they have their lives before them and they may live long, whereas there is no future for an old worn-out woman.
‘Then again there are others who think that Arfeq should allow his mother-in-law to ride on his sledge, or at any rate go back for her when he has built his snow hut, while others say that he only has two dogs and with his wife has to help to drag his sledge from place to place. And if he has to be at the breathing holes next morning at the proper time to secure food, he can not travel backwards and forwards between the old and the new camp to salvage an old woman. He has the choice between helping one who is at deaths door anyhow, and allowing his wife and children to starve.
‘This is how it is, and we see no wickedness in it. Perhaps it is more remarkable that old Kigtaq, now that she is no longer able to fend for herself, still hangs on as a burden to her children and grandchildren. For our custom up here is that all old people who can do no more, and whom death will not take, help death to take them.
“And they do this not merely to be rid of a life that is no longer a pleasure, but also to relieve their nearest relations of the trouble they give them.…A man is fond of life as long as he is well, but as soon as life becomes a burden to him, either on account of age or sickness, they believe they have the right to seek death themselves.”
These are practical realities modern societies have outgrown. The role of the Western medicine has become to extend life for as long as possible no matter the quality of that life. We are horrible at letting go.
It is so bad that we now worry about the “death anxiety” experienced by people who decide to pursue careers in medicine where sickness, trauma, violence and death can be expected as norms. And we struggle to keep people alive no matter what.
“Of the 2.6 million people who died in the U.S. in 2014, 2.1 million, or eight out of 10, were people on Medicare, making Medicare the largest insurer of medical care provided at the end of life. Spending on Medicare beneficiaries in their last year of life accounts for about 25 percent of total Medicare spending on beneficiaries age 65 or older,” according to KFF, a national, nonprofit organization that advocates for health care. “The fact that a disproportionate share of Medicare spending goes to beneficiaries at the end of life is not surprising given that many have serious illnesses or multiple chronic conditions and often use costly services, including inpatient hospitalizations, post-acute care, and hospice, in the year leading up to their death.”
Given these new and costly practical realities versus the old practical realities, what better way to get rid of the old than a new disease that crops them off and mainly spares the young, especially if the virus targets old men – and in particular old, white men, the leaders of the white, patriarchial society that colonized North America and created a country some now believe exits on the edge of evil?
OK, so it’s now well documented that old black men took an ever bigger hit from the news SARS-CoV-2 virus than old white men, but this could be considered acceptable collateral damage in a necessary war on the old folks. And a war on the old is what the pandemic has been almost since the get-go.
The pandemic was killing mainly the old at the beginning, and that has only become more and more the case. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported 75 percent of the 60,167 who died in the statistical week ending Wednesday were age 65 or older, and this was a relatively good week for the old folks.
A peer-reviewed study published by the International Journal of Infectious diseases a week ago reported that in 2021, “the highest COVID-19 mortality rates continued to be observed at ages 75+, despite vaccinations having specifically targeted those ages.”
There were people warning of this age-related phenomenon almost from the start of the pandemic. Dr. David Katz in March of 2020 presented a plan for what he called “Total Harm Minimization.” It was built around the idea that risks could be ranked, and that those most at risk should be the most protected.
The idea was quickly shouted down because Katz classified healthy people under age 60 as low/average risk, and basically advocated letting them go on living their lives normally except for minimizing their contact with the high-risk individuals he said should be given assistance in sheltering in place.
A New York Times reporter went so far as to get on CNN and demand Katz, the founding director of Yale University’s Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, apologize to the nation for suggesting an “extremely dangerous way of thinking” that might provide “a scientific underpinning for (then-President) Donald Trump to say things like the cure is worse than the disease.”
The country’s easily manipulated mainstream media quickly went along with the idea that Covid-19 was a deadly threat to everyone and the country needed to be locked down.
“The Latest: Young people most of Arizona’s confirmed cases,” the Associated Press announced in July 2020 above a story declaring that the Department of Health Services said in a statement that “more than 62,000 of the 101,441 reported cases involve people younger than 44….They’re the groups who went out to Arizona’s bars and nightclubs en masse after Gov. Doug Ducey ended his stay-home orders in mid-May. The governor closed nightclubs and gyms again last week in an effort to slow the surge of virus cases, which have nearly doubled in the past two weeks.”
Of course, they were infected. SARS-CoV-2 was already showing signs of being on its way to becoming an endemic disease – like the common cold or the flu – and by the start of this year health authorities were finally conceding that it was likely everyone would be infected eventually.
But the problem has never been with simply getting infected; the problem has been with getting seriously infected, which can lead to what we now call long-Covid, or dying, and the people suffering those fates have largely been the old and/or the co-morbid, folks we once described as suffering from “chronic diseases” or being “infirm.”
Some efforts were made to protect them early on. Some might remember the “senior hours” at some stores and shopping centers that in 2020 allowed the aged to shop in big, airy spaces even before U.S. health officials finally conceded that SARS-CoV-2 was an airborne virus and infection rates were driven by the amount of virus in the air.
Senior hours were a great time to visit the roomy Costco stores in Anchorage to shop. That luxury didn’t last long. There are no senior hours now anywhere despite the fact Covid-19 is mainly killing seniors. And the whole idea of offering them extra protection has faded away.
Maybe the old folks just got lost in the chaos of the response to the disease, but maybe someone in authority quietly decided this was a good time to give seniors the Kigtaq treatment.
Maybe someone in power concluded, to paraphrase Rasmussen, that society has the choice between helping those who are at death’s door anyhow, and allowing the younger and their children to starve. This is how it is, and we see no wickedness in it. Perhaps it is more remarkable that old folks, now that they are no longer able to fend for themselves, still hang on as a burden to their children and grandchildren.
There is definitely a plot line for a novel here, and some representatives of the U.S. government during the crisis would provide great outlines for perfect characters to lead a deep-state plan for mass senicide to solve the economic problems of the national retirement system.