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Inspired by current events, and the ongoing problem of too many old people and not enough young people creating a burden on pension/healthcare systems in Asia and around the world.

For starters, I can see that not having to pay out so many pensions would be directly related to freeing up more money for the government to use for other things like infrastructure development and overseas expansion (In this hypothetical situation, we'll call this the cough "Sash and Street" Initiative cough)

As a side note, in the snow country of Japan hundreds of years ago, poor families supposedly had the tradition of oba-sute (姨捨--lit. "throwing away old woman") in which they walked the elderly in their family deep into the mountains and abandoned them to die, so that their food stores would last the rest of the family through the winter. I'm imagining this on a global scale.

Note: don't do this. That's what bad guys do.

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    $\begingroup$ Your question doesn't really warrant a straightforward answer. Could they do it? Yes. It's possible with current technology. Would they do it? Maybe, but it's what bad guys do. It would be noticed, and the outrage would be enormous. Why? You answer this in your question, elderly people aren't as useful. $\endgroup$ – Plutian Feb 20 at 13:39
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    $\begingroup$ "oba-sute" is not that bad, considering some europinan traditions to leave children in a cold forest to die (since they will not be able to produce food at spring). We should not judge people who were living at the edge of death $\endgroup$ – ksbes Feb 20 at 13:57
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    $\begingroup$ You ask in the title "why" and then answer that question in the body. $\endgroup$ – SZCZERZO KŁY Feb 20 at 14:07
  • $\begingroup$ @ksbes We even have a story about leaving kids who in turn kill older person who don't provide nothing to society. Damn we're grumpy bunch of people. $\endgroup$ – SZCZERZO KŁY Feb 20 at 14:24
  • $\begingroup$ Because old people have more experience and remembers stuff that government did in past... so corrupt government wishes old people to die and erase everything, which leads to question, what happens with old people in government? $\endgroup$ – Veljko89 Feb 20 at 15:29
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Targeting individuals by age is grossly inefficient. Only a primitive civilization is run primarily by manual labor, so the ability of individuals to provide manual labor is largely irrelevant, which means many older citizens are still contributing significantly.

If your concern is healthcare expenditures then simply stop guaranteeing people infinite spending on their healthcare. Just stop using the treasury to fund unlimited healthcare consumption. Nothing more need be done to address this issue, and addressed directly without collateral damage or campaigns of mass-murder. In a country with highly constrained resources it is easy to gain consensus that it is better for the elderly to die of natural causes (rather than consuming astounding levels of resources in heroic efforts to extend their lives for a short while) than to deprive children of needed medical care so they can live long healthy lives. This is why the elderly of primitive communities were abandoned in times of shortage with the practice venerated by society - when there is not enough to go around it is far better to sacrifice the elderly than the young.

Pensions likewise are only a problem if they are direct payments from the government to older citizens. It costs the government nothing if people are expected to save money for their old age themselves instead of having been earlier bribed by politicians with the wealth of future generations. Private pensions actually improve the economy as those pension savings are an enormous pool used for investment, instead of an enormous drain through government taxation and administration (of course changing from one system to another will be an initial cost, much as the imposition of such a pension scheme was a political boon to the politicians who implemented it). Unfortunately if those earlier politicians did use the treasury (more specifically debt foisted on future generations who cannot yet vote their interest) to bribe people into supporting them, not much can be done without significant disruption.

In this case a better approach would likely be one of cultural normalization of "Death with Dignity". Voluntary euthanasia could likely spare a lot of cost - not only pensions but also health expenditures. Once people feel they are getting too weary in the bones, they could be encouraged to die on their own terms at a time of their own choosing, before they succumb to greater pains of aging. They would be doing the responsible thing of retiring from life before becoming a burden on their families and their community. Those who are still relatively healthy and contributing would still be able to continue on, while those who become decrepit early will be given a dignified and comfortable end. Those too frightened of the prospect of death, who desperately want to cling on no matter what, will be faced with a healthcare system which is not willing to spend unlimited funds on their continual comfort.

Instead of a government releasing this, which is too far fetched given the enormous cost inflicted on the economy from pandemics, you might see a private extremist group release such a virus. Possibly in the name of environmentalism (Boomers are the scourge of the Earth kind of thing), possibly in the name of political revolution (old people are too conservative so we can only have our glorious socialist utopia if we kill off all those experienced wise educated people who keep pointing out that it is doomed to failure because reality doesn't work like a simplistic childish fantasy says it does), but some group which is ideologically driven without much in the way of understanding.

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  • $\begingroup$ The world has seen governments that decided which lives were valuable and which weren't. My home country had such a government from 1933 to 1945. Your answer, while of course logical and all, at least in a way, reminds me a lot of the reasoning from those disgusting times. $\endgroup$ – Burki Feb 20 at 15:23
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    $\begingroup$ I think you will find that throughout history many (most?) governments have engaged in this kind of "progressive" planning. It is the hubris of power which plagues humanity. I suspect a lot of it comes from people who want to be in control of a government think themselves capable and right to control other people, which further falls into overriding the needs/wellbeing of the people (why do they continue to frustrate the will of the Great Leader? Unfortunately it must be imposed by force for the greater good). They imagine they can design society into Utopia, if only they had enough power. $\endgroup$ – pluckedkiwi Feb 20 at 15:57
  • $\begingroup$ @ Burki: And how exactly is this saying that some lives are more valuable than others? It would seem that this just allows individuals to decide what their own life is worth. Instead, we today have a paradoxical system which decides that people past a certain age are worthless "senior citizens", generally forced out of productive activities and warehoused - until they become seriously ill, in which case immense amounts of money are spent to postpone the inevitable and enrich the medical industry. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Feb 20 at 19:13
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf i'm referring mostly to paragraphs 2 and 3, which discuss solely the financial aspects of human lives. And those are there, yes. But it's a very cold and inhumane way of looking at the topic. It reduces people to their economical value, implying that you should (or at least could) just throw them in the trash when they are not valuable any more. And this is horrible. Yet it's what happens, only not so bluntly. $\endgroup$ – Burki Feb 21 at 7:47
  • $\begingroup$ @Burki Money is used to compensate others for what resources you consume - it isn't about a person's "worth", it is what resources they are entitled to take from others. So long as we live in a world of scarcity, resources are limited (no matter what your ideological wishing it were otherwise, we cannot spend infinite resources on everyone). Do we ration resources based on a pricing mechanism for people to weigh trade-offs, or just based on political power? The former is a beneficial economic system, the latter just ends in privation and disaster. $\endgroup$ – pluckedkiwi Feb 21 at 14:01
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It does not make economic sense

Only 2,130 people have been killed by the coronavirus so far (Feb. 20), mostly in China. The economic cost of the virus looks to set China's growth for Q1 2020 back to as low as 3.5%, compared to 6.0% for Q1 2019. That's a loss of one-third of a trillion USD. Any savings from a few thousand elderly killed off will hence be offset more than a thousand times by the impact on growth. Not a good plan!

Addendum: A 'better' plan would be to just relase a strain or two of ordinary flu every year, which are not covered by flu slots. Some elderly bow under, and there is no great panic. Of course, as always, there is a risk of the viruses mutating into something less controllable. Viruses tend to do that now and again (which is probably how the Spanish Flu originated).

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for contributing the type of information that I was seeking! $\endgroup$ – doe Feb 20 at 14:15
  • $\begingroup$ @doe Keeep in mind that C virus is attacking everyone. You could make one that only is dangerous to old people who don't work or turn it into fun activity (like in Logan's Run) $\endgroup$ – SZCZERZO KŁY Feb 20 at 14:27
  • $\begingroup$ Actually Coronavirus is just a overhyped flu. A virus released on purpose would be a little bit different. $\endgroup$ – FluidCode Feb 20 at 14:38
  • $\begingroup$ @SZCZERZO KŁY: Actually, the current coronavirus does preferentially kill older people: worldometers.info/coronavirus/coronavirus-age-sex-demographics $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Feb 20 at 19:02
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    $\begingroup$ @jamesqf Flue virus is also usually killing older people. But it becaus they are weaken. Not by virus design. $\endgroup$ – SZCZERZO KŁY Feb 21 at 8:51
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They wouldn't need to "release" a virus that preferentially kills the elderly (and frail, and collaterally a relatively small number of children).

All they need to do is "accidentally" release an influenza immunization for the season that is ineffective, or "improperly processed" in a way that actually produces the disease it's "intended" to combat. Combine this with blitz advertising campaigns fighting the persistent rumors that the flu vaccine causes flu, and urging everyone to get "the shot" to protect their neighbors and kids, if not themselves, and you've got a campaign that will rid a high density country like India or China of as many as a hundred thousand non-productive individuals in a single season.

What's a hundred thousand to a country with a population above a billion (thousand million, if you think in British numbers, or crore if you think in Hindi numbers)? It's a significant fraction of those who have passed their productive years, yet are still supported by society. It's those who would usually have the highest medical care costs (paid by the government in most countries outside the USA).

Sure, there will also be those vocal antivaxxers, making their case in the media (especially after the "accident" is made public by whistleblowers inside the pharma companies). Two ways to shut them up: first, you'll have been calling them idiots for years already, because, well, it's an easy case to make. Second, all you have to do is point to the small number of child deaths resulting from this year's flu, and blame antivaxxers for not getting their kids "the shot" -- and suddenly the antivaxxers are child abusers, en masse.

One could make a case that this has already been tried in America, but our population is too spread out for it to work really well -- contagion has to really work to get anywhere when many people live in single-family dwellings and commute to work in individual vehicles.

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  • $\begingroup$ The downside of this approach: Once the accident is revealed (not that it was intentional, just that it happened), the antivaxxers will have a field day. $\endgroup$ – John Dvorak Feb 20 at 13:49
  • $\begingroup$ Antivaxxers are easy to shut up -- they'll be too busy home schooling their kids who were pulled out of public schools due to no-exceptions immunization laws, and state-owned media (like certain American news networks, even) will label them as idiots and make fun of them publicly. You underestimate the level of evil a government is capable of (getting away with). $\endgroup$ – Zeiss Ikon Feb 20 at 13:56
  • $\begingroup$ In fact, all you have to do is play up the small number of child deaths from flu to put the antivaxxers on their heels. $\endgroup$ – Zeiss Ikon Feb 20 at 13:57
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No, no country would do this. Three people can keep a secret, if two of them are dead. This would require far more than three people, and could not be kept secret, so the government would be overthrown and imprisoned, at best.

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    $\begingroup$ Overthrown and imprisoned, by whom? There's a prior case of government that did far worse stuff openly, and still survived for longer than it deserved. $\endgroup$ – John Dvorak Feb 20 at 13:41
  • $\begingroup$ Does it have to be kept a secret? Take the coronavirus, for example. Started in China, a country where people have been detained for leaking information about the virus to the rest of the world. I'm not saying that China maliciously engineered the virus, but I'm saying that in a story, where everything was set up similarly, the consequences of this might not be that dire. It could start a war maybe, but if the hypothetical country already wanted a war.... why not? $\endgroup$ – doe Feb 20 at 13:53
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I think taking your question literally, the answer is a clear NO

No government would do that (unless they were openly fascist or such). But of course, individual agents might do that, as long as the government can plausibly deny their involvement.

About keeping a secret: Discrediting those who found out often works just as well as keeping things a secret...

But then again: the common variants of Influenza already kill mostly old people, as do other infectuous diseases, too, simply because older people generally have weaker defenses.

But there are more "elegant", slightly indirect ways of achieving the same. You can as a government endorse known quackery, be that snake oil or homeopathy, to let the gullible handle things like Darwin suggested, or by limiting access to health care, either the american way by making it unaffordable for half the population, or the western european way by financially starving hospitals et al.

Admittedly, those ways are not immediately effective, at least not on a broad scale, but for cynical people it would have the "benefit" of trageting especially poorer old people (who already die 5-10 years younger than the rich)

So... "maybe", or "in a way", should be the answers to your question.

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Uneconomical.

Health care systems require a lot of money and at the same time it is very difficult to monitor the expenses (except for regular salaries). There are a lot of grey areas where it is easy to skim part of the money. So older people which make the bulk of the expenses are useful for both, to keep the GDP high and to justify a type of spending highly prone to bribery.

Edit:

There is also a political side of the issue. Pensioners who spend a lot of time in front of the TV can be more easily brainwashed by the media. They are a segment of the population which provided precious support to the incumbent system.

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As long as you can make a beliveable scenario where a government is incapable of minimal stability, of making changes in the root of the economic system facing a complete overhaul of historial meanings of production from manual labor to almost complete automation, then you have a desperate State trying anything to remain in power. If pensions (one of the most expensive expenditures) is too heavy a burden, then a secret genocide is a viable option. We are talking of Venezuelan levels of corruption and decay, so, completely, utterly possible.

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    $\begingroup$ This has potential to be a good answer. But don't argue with other answers. Instead, simply lay out how your assumptions are different...yet still within the framework provided by the original question. $\endgroup$ – user535733 Feb 20 at 15:59

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