Cultural attitudes to the helplessly old or the handicapped newly-born have changed enormously in the course of the industrial revolution. As we have become more prosperous we could more easily carry the economic burden of looking after old people — even if they are in a vegetative state — and devising expensive procedures to allow us prevent handicapped children being aborted or dying at birth.
However, neither of these categories, if they survive, vote at election times and so, if times become economically grim for us, less government expenditure needs to be directed to them. This is why our Finance Minister George Osborne, is expected to reduce welfare spending by about £1 billion in his forthcoming Budget to the physically disabled in order to give a better tax break to the highly-paid — who most surely vote at election times.
Osborne is actually onto a ‘winner’. Although there’ll be a great furore by some of the middle-class who take an interest in these things, most of the population will keep their heads low and go along with it. The reason is that we have a natural aversion to the physically handicapped. Because of our politically correct atmosphere at present this attitude dare not be expressed — not yet, anyway.
However, as anthropologists inform us from observations of hunter-gatherer tribes all round the world, it was never thus. Early man had no scruples about culling handicapped children — and even to culling one of a pair of newly-born twins — or old people who could no longer look after themselves. Tribes that were too solicitous couldn’t survive in competition with others. Over the longer term, the differences between them in saving energy over the caring tribes , even though marginal, would have been decisive.
In the coming decades as the (vaguely) 30 or so advanced countries compete increasingly fiercely in the development of scientific research and sophisticated services — in order to trade with the Asian ‘tigers’ for physical goods — then we’ll find more finance ministers following George Osborne lead kin reducing welfare spending — and indeed taking it further in the years to come.