In The Wiener Holocaust Library’s collections, we have a copy of Arithmetic for National Schools produced by the Nazi Gau of North and South Westphalia, published in 1941. On page 73 of this maths textbook, which was aimed at teenagers, we see an illustration asking students ‘What does it cost to care for those who inherit illness?’ The textbook points out that the annual wage of ten workers is needed to counterbalance ten years in a psychiatric institution.
Your writers, Alex Clark and Tom Haynes, may not to be aware of this particular – and ultimately fatal – precedent of encouraging people to ‘calculate the cost’ of welfare benefits. Whatever the political, or economic, merits of a particular approach to welfare policy might be – a complex and difficult task at the best of times – encouraging your readers to calculate the value of human lives is not commensurate with the journalistic standards of public debate that we must aspire to in the United Kingdom.
By positioning the sick, elderly, and disabled people, some of the most vulnerable members of society, as an intolerable burden, the article strays very far from neutral analysis of tax and spend policies. The suggested income-based ‘calculator’ is irresponsible and reminiscent of the eugenicist thinking of an age which many rightly hope never to see again.
We may be a long way from the policies of the 1930s and 1940s in modern Britain, but we should not forget the threat that eugenicist thinking poses to civilised values. We would therefore like to invite Mr Clark and Mr Haynes to visit The Wiener Holocaust Library to learn about the history of eugenics from our collections.
Dr Toby Simpson.