Will all of economic growth be absorbed into life extension?

by on March 15, 2016 at 12:49 am in Economics, Medicine | Permalink

That is the subject of the new JPE paper by Charles I. Jones, here is the abstract:

Some technologies save lives—new vaccines, new surgical techniques, safer highways. Others threaten lives—pollution, nuclear accidents, global warming, and the rapid global transmission of disease. How is growth theory altered when technologies involve life and death instead of just higher consumption? This paper shows that taking life into account has first-order consequences. Under standard preferences, the value of life may rise faster than consumption, leading society to value safety over consumption growth. As a result, the optimal rate of consumption growth may be substantially lower than what is feasible, in some cases falling all the way to zero.

It is a well-known stylized fact that the share of health care in gdp is generally rising…

Which is better?  A society with quite patient, very long-lived individuals with a static standard of living, or a society of people who die at eighty but manage to double living standards every generation?

Which would we choose?

Addendum: Here is an earlier, “less gated” version of the paper.

1 Gafiated March 15, 2016 at 1:21 am

[verbiage], leading society to value [verbiage].”

First, define society.

Second, note that in the USA Medicaid reimbursement for childbirth can be lower than the cash price for elective Botox.

2 Ronald Brak March 15, 2016 at 1:47 am

If I have to work for 12 hours a day, very slowly because of all the safety regulations, just to afford my anti-aging treatments, then I would spend two hours a day after that working out how to improve productivity so I won’t have to work 12 hours a day. (People are funny like that.) Maybe you’ll say only young people can manage to work 14 hours a day, and I say that’s obviously not a problem. Maybe I’ll spend those 2 hours a day building a robot, or writing software, that will do my work for me.

So it’s not a choice between immortality or economic growth. It’s a choice between a lot of growth in the not die sector instead of other sectors for a period of time until we work out highly efficient ways of getting people to not die, followed by renewed growth in other areas. After all, once you’ve made people immortal there isn’t much point in spending resources to make them 110% immortal.

3 Abilio March 15, 2016 at 1:49 am

I’m positive this is a case of diminishing marginal returns but it is necessary to also take into account:
– inequality affects the quality of life but, some technologies are easier to universalize than others
– global warming effects are also affected by inequalities (the poor ones have no choice to scape)
– ideology matters (demographic transition and preservatives)
– global results depends also on the costs of bring new life to the planet: individual marginal calculation + the extension of markets + game theory (inverse population pyramid)

4 prior_test2 March 15, 2016 at 1:55 am

‘and the rapid global transmission of disease’

Since when is this a new technology?, ask two continents worth of victims of smallpox and tuberculosis. The spread of those diseases was rapid, and soon as contact was made. Our technology has not sped up the spread of a disease epidemic like that of Spanish flu either – ‘The 1918 flu pandemic (January 1918 – December 1920) was an unusually deadly influenza pandemic, the first of the two pandemics involving H1N1 influenza virus.[1] It infected 500 million people across the world,[2] including remote Pacific islands and the Arctic, and resulted in the deaths of 50 to 100 million (three to five percent of the world’s population[3]), making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history.’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1918_flu_pandemic

Though not in the same league as smallpox, tuberculosis, or H1N1, the global spread, and related speed of that spread, of both syphilis and AIDS (recognizing the diseases are comparable, not identical) does not seem to have been significantly affected by technology either.

Effective public health programs, on the other hand, do seem to have an impact. Luckily for Americans of a certain persuasion, such a seemingly trivial instvestment of public funds has been removed in the name of free market growth. Or banned in the name of whatever it is that banned federal funding for 17 years concerning gun death fatalities would fall under – ‘In 1996 the NRA lobbied Congressman Jay Dickey (R-Ark.) to include budget provisions that prohibited the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) from advocating or promoting gun control and that deleted $2.6 million from the CDC budget, the exact amount the CDC had spent on firearms research the previous year. The ban was later extended to all research funded by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). According to scientists in the field, this made gun research more difficult, reduced the number of studies, and discouraged researchers from even talking about gun violence at medical and scientific conferences. In 2013, after the December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, President Barack Obama ordered the CDC to resume funding research on gun violence and prevention, and put $10 million in the 2014 budget request for it.’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gun_violence_in_the_United_States#Research_limitations

5 Dots March 15, 2016 at 5:35 am

they will make nastier, fleeter diseases than the oldies

6 So Much For Subtlety March 15, 2016 at 6:00 am

In 1996 the NRA lobbied Congressman Jay Dickey (R-Ark.) to include budget provisions that prohibited the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) from advocating or promoting gun control and that deleted $2.6 million from the CDC budget, the exact amount the CDC had spent on firearms research the previous year.

Good on the NRA. Gun control is not a health issue, it is a political issue. The place to deal with it is in the Congress. If at all. Taxpayers should not be forced to pay for hostile propaganda aimed at stripping them of their rights.

None of which has anything to do with the topic.

7 Nathan W March 15, 2016 at 6:17 am

What if gun violence research found that more guns make us safer. Wouldn’t we want to know? But, what if it is the opposite case? Wouldn’t we also want to know?

Instead, we rely on propaganda. For less than $0.01 per American per year, there could be good research on this.

Why assume that the results would lead to stripping away of rights?

8 So Much For Subtlety March 15, 2016 at 6:47 am

You have a touching faith in the intent of this research. They are not gun smiths. They are not engineers. They are public health experts. All their research is the same. It is not about safer guns. It is about fewer and lesser gun rights.

Good research on what? People know what is safe and what is not. Legal gun owners are not a problem. Illegal gun holders are an enforcement problem, not a public health issue.


9 Nathan W March 15, 2016 at 9:35 am

And what if research into gun violence is able to ascertain better ways to deal with illegal gun holders? And anyways, if that’s the case, it would seem like law abiding gun owners should favour such evidence, as it would imply that legal guns are not a problem (this is not a certain conclusion, however, for example the recent case of the 4 year old who shot his mom through the drivers seat, the gun having been carelessly left in the back).

What experience?

10 Cliff March 15, 2016 at 9:30 am

From what I recall, they were not doing any real research, just propaganda. Anyway, why the CDC? NIH maybe.

11 Cooper March 15, 2016 at 12:54 pm

If it only costs $2.6 million, couldn’t some private group run the study?

12 Nathan W March 15, 2016 at 1:28 pm

Since there’s no money to be made in any prospective outputs, regardless of the outcome, there’s hardly a constituency who would put money into it, I think. Also, consider that any organziation which financially supported such research would immediately come under the NRA radar, with a fairly predictable campaign to destroy their credibility in any other area they were active in.

No money to be made. High costs to be paid. A potential social benefit. If not the government, then who? I mean, if you’ve got some concrete ideas of “who”, or even some stabs in the dark, then I’m all ears. I just don’t see it happening.

Like, maaaybe some public union that saw jobs in some gun regulations might see a plausible interest. But not only would the research be discredited by many for the fact of the “conflcit of interest” (not like this bothers the same people about Koch et al and anti-AGW oil advocacy), the NRA would easily spin this into a massive negative, stoking significant anti-union and anti-government sentiment, neither of which would be desirable for that union. In which case, you have a perceived tainted output with high blowback risk.

13 freethinker March 15, 2016 at 2:04 am

What have the comments on Trump to do with the subject of Tyler’s post? I don’t live iN the US so perhaps there is something I don’t understand about the link between Trump and the paper Tyler talks about

14 Stephan March 15, 2016 at 2:08 am

Trump is just everywhere these days. I am guessing if he becomes president, he will have the most recognizable name on the planet, higher than Jesus perhaps

15 Butter March 15, 2016 at 4:41 am

Nothing. It’s just regular spam.

16 Mark Thorson March 16, 2016 at 12:50 am

By the time I read the comments to this blog posting, the Trump stuff was gone. Thanks to the moderator for scraping the barnacles off the hull.

17 Benjamin Cole March 15, 2016 at 2:22 am

I think the big trade off is leisure time vs. working. After adjusting for six weeks off a year, do Germans have lower living standards than Americans?

And Trump will get you more vacation time.

18 Hazel Meade March 15, 2016 at 10:13 am

Trump with get you everything you want. It’s going to be great. You’re going to love it.

19 Nancy March 15, 2016 at 10:44 am

Everyone talks about leisure time as if it is great. But, if you don’t have income or sufficient savings having more leisure time can be terribly
anxiety provoking. Look at the long term unemployed, or got that matter many of Trump’s angry followers. Look at older people who
have the free time they’ve worked hard for, suffer terrible worry about living too long. No one ever talks about those cases

20 Stephan March 15, 2016 at 2:30 am

Immortality/youth extension is the outstanding unsolved problem of today. This problem stares us in the face daily. Forget Global warming! Aging is the biggest scourge there has ever been. It kills everybody. and has killed probably ~ 100 billion homo sapiens to date.
A society which doubles living standard every generation will have to address this sooner or later. Time is what’s lacking for most people in the western world, not consumption. Even with lack of aging , the median lifespan would probably still limited to 600 years due to accidents. There will be great pressure to make everything safer, to finely compute the risks of daily life and live one’s life accordingly, perhaps too cautiously for some, but eventually science will enable us to recover from most accidents.
We are very likely the last generation(s) to die this young

21 carlolspln March 15, 2016 at 3:53 am

Au contraire: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMvTlhE92UQ

Embrace your finite existence!

22 Nathan W March 15, 2016 at 6:22 am

I imagine if you lived 600 years you would completely hate it because so much stuff would change over that time that you would become completely disgusted with everything. Or, perhaps people would become very zen about change. Or, perhaps things would change much more slowly, because sometimes things don’t change until the old generation dies off.

100 years seems quite a plenty to me.

23 Moreno Klaus March 15, 2016 at 6:41 am

I believ in reincarnation so for me this is not a problem. Even if i wouldnt whats the point of living beyond 80 anyway? Well ok, if i would look like 30, until im 80 thats another story, but i think its unlikely.

24 Cliff March 15, 2016 at 9:32 am

We’ll see if you guys feel that way when you’re 79/99

25 RustySynapses March 15, 2016 at 10:41 am

In my experience, people who are really old – 99 (or in my great aunt’s case, 103) aren’t very happy and aren’t clinging to life. Not just because of health issues – they’ve just lived a long time and seen a lot of change and for many that gets tiring and most of the people they were very close to are dead. Of course, if you improved longevity and reduce the effects of aging, maybe they stay more engaged and that changes. I think the interesting question in that scenario is there would be a huge political struggle between young and old for the resources to afford life extension – sort of like the new medicare drug benefit x 1000 – at some point, the young have to say WTF???

26 Hazel Meade March 15, 2016 at 11:13 am

Only if the old are retired and thus a burden on the young.
If life extension were improved to reduce the effects of aging, then people might remain productive proportionately longer. “Old” would mean 100+ instead of “over 60”. And 100+ year oldas are equally far removed from 60 year olds as 60 year olds are from 20 year olds.

I think the old being tired of life is largely because of the health issues. If I was running around mountain hiking at 99 I can’t imagine getting tired of life.

27 Nathan W March 15, 2016 at 1:48 pm

It does concern me that the elderly might vote themselves too many benefits. I whole heartedly support the notion that everyone should live in dignity in their old age, but at what point have we surpassed broad provisions for dignity and strayed into bankrupting future generations rather than allocating resources towards a better future?

28 Yancey Ward March 15, 2016 at 11:22 am

How old are you today, Nathan?

29 Nathan W March 15, 2016 at 1:46 pm

Youngish. But I might die any day. Maybe I won’t wake up in the morning. Who knows? And while I certainly don’t seek it out, that doesn’t trouble me in the least. I don’t lose sleep over these things. Yeah, maybe I’ll become more afraid of death as it becomes imminent, and i guess that’s your implied suggestion, but I just don’t think that’s me.

30 Yancey Ward March 15, 2016 at 7:22 pm

Yeah, young people never think that is them.

I used to be like you- to the extent I thought about it at all- death seemed an unreal thing, and distant at that. I could be flippant and make statements like, “I think 100 years is enough”, because my internal sense was that the remaining 70-80 years was so long as to have no real meaning at all. Aging changes that perspective in two ways- the maximum time until you keel over from age alone becomes a fraction of the time you have already lived, and suddenly the time left has an internal measurement, and one that will change your belief. The second way aging changes your perspective is that you get more and more experience with the aging in others and deaths of those you love.

For me, the change really started to come after I reached 40, and it deepens year after year. Time is precious, and I find I want more and more of it with less and less of it available. And here is the thing that really will twist you up- I fear death less than I did in my 20s. That may seem paradoxical, or even just outright wrong, but one of the downsides to immortality is probably that death means you have more to lose. Still, I would take it in a heartbeat.

31 Larry March 15, 2016 at 2:50 am

It is at least possible that life extension requires a tech fix. One feature of tech fixes is costs that collapse over time. We appear to be on the verge of “solving” multiple cancers using immunotherapy. It costs 10’s of thousands now. But those costs are likely to crash. What happens when it costs 10s of dollars? Consider DNA analysis. Costs have fallen from billions per profile to thousands per profile, with hundreds in prospect.

Biology is finite. We’re about to crack it.

The only really interesting q is how to serve the AI apocalypse. The only way I can see is to become the AI. Likely?

32 Larry March 15, 2016 at 2:51 am

survive, not serve.

33 Skynet March 15, 2016 at 11:25 am

No, Larry, you had it right the first time.

34 Cooper March 15, 2016 at 1:05 pm

Sometimes Freudian slips are quite revealing.

35 Alain March 15, 2016 at 3:30 am

Survive the AI apocalypse? Rather unlikely. There are a few possibilities:

a) somehow the 1st AIs are actually converted humans. Seems like an unlikely path.
b) the AIs actually like us as pets and keep us around. Unlikely, and probably distasteful. Also, wouldn’t we be more like ants than dogs?
c) Maybe creating a stable AI is impossible. Perhaps awesomely intelligent sentience stuck running at ridiculous frequencies will go insane quickly. This may be our best hope, but I wouldn’t put money on it just yet.

IMO don’t worry too much about the AI apocalypse. You can’t do anything about it. Just life your life. Maybe increase your consumption now.

36 Cliff March 15, 2016 at 9:35 am

Since the AI will be limited by our programming, why don’t we research how to keep them friendly?

37 Alain March 15, 2016 at 12:07 pm

Lol how, exactly?

38 Nathan W March 15, 2016 at 2:00 pm

Hardwire a bunch of stuff that precedes any and all decisions. Like “don’t hurt humans”. As for military applications, I imagine Hollywood will do a good job of dreaming up many good movies to express how things could go wrong. I hope we will be listening to their hype when it comes.

39 Alain Hamel March 16, 2016 at 12:36 am

Hardwire?? Wut?

There is no place to put this kind of evaluation. Even if there was, there would be a hole, Godel’s. It would find it.

40 Nathan W March 16, 2016 at 5:35 am

Hardwire. Like literally there is a separate and first order decision making process in a completely different chip which has absolutely unalterable coding, which at all times has supremacy of certain decision-making procedures. If the evaluated decision involved breaking any key rules, then this completely separate decision making centre is programmed to shut down the AI.

What is important is this: The ability to create a foolproof human safety oriented AI does not imply that all AI will be created as such.

41 carlolspln March 15, 2016 at 3:54 am

“Biology is finite. We’re about to crack it”

I laughed.

42 Opinion March 15, 2016 at 3:22 am

Definitely double the living standard. We all die anyway eventually.

43 anon March 15, 2016 at 4:57 am

Surfers live well, without the “living standard.”


44 Axa March 15, 2016 at 7:33 am

you mean the surfers than only have surfed in hometown beaches? Affordable international air travel is part of the “living standard”.

45 Cliff March 15, 2016 at 9:36 am

Yeah, you can have a hell of a living standard on a lot less than the median income.

46 Lord Action March 15, 2016 at 9:41 am

Imagine society splits into two groups: the “doublers” and the “safers”. Now wait a couple of generations and see what happens. Safers are doomed.

47 So Much For Subtlety March 15, 2016 at 4:23 am

How is growth theory altered when technologies involve life and death instead of just higher consumption? …. Under standard preferences, the value of life may rise faster than consumption, leading society to value safety over consumption growth.

I don’t quite see how lower consumption of non-medical good and higher consumption of medical treatment would result in lower growth. Consumption is consumption is consumption. The economy does not care if I put in extra over time to pay for my Stroon or my Playstation. Using medical treatment is consumption. Or to put it another way, is the assumption that there is a trade off a good assumption? Why would society have to choose between the value of a life and other forms of consumption?

Why you work a second job to pay for another 100 years of life?

48 Cererean March 15, 2016 at 8:39 am

I think this another one of those Things Economists Can’t Measure. Like Netflix and Chill – an substitution of cinema trips with N&C will result in a reduction in GDP, but that doesn’t mean people are necessarily having a lower standard of living.

49 LR March 15, 2016 at 4:32 am

With zero discount rate 160 yrs is worth twice 80 yrs. IE 160 vs 80 annual utils. To make 80 yrs worth 160 utils you need about 1.5% util growth per year or a doubling of real util growth every 50 yrs or so.

Isn’t it more fun to live in a world where things are getting better?

50 Cliff March 15, 2016 at 9:37 am

Up until you die, maybe.

51 djw March 17, 2016 at 1:51 am

I don’t know. Ask me in 2176.

52 Shane M March 15, 2016 at 4:47 am

Well, personally I guess I like the idea of living forever. But I’d hope my investments would hold out, and unsure what that means in a no growth or negative growth economy. Plus, I wouldn’t want to work forever if I could keep from it, so the capital would have to be very productive.

But yes, while it sounds bleak, I’d prefer a static long lived life under those circumstance. And it’s really not a difficult choice if I think about it in selfish terms. But is it really about me? Or is it about the advancement of society?

53 Shane M March 15, 2016 at 5:53 pm

…after thinking about this overnight, I’d still like to have life extension. There are so many interesting things to engage oneself with that I wouldn’t run out of things I’d want to do. However, on the economic side, I wonder if those “interesting things to do with your life” can somehow be economically monetized into a sustainable economy for a population of immortals? Many (most?) interesting things to do aren’t economically rewarding, so if this plays out in a sustainable way uncertain. But at the same time, if time is nearly unlimited, very, very low returns on capital might not be an issue because “I can wait.”

Most of us do this now with our recently earned life extension, working/earning/saving in our youth to spend a large part of the end of our lives pursuing our interests in retirement.

54 chrisare March 15, 2016 at 5:10 am

What’s the base?

55 Aidan March 15, 2016 at 5:51 am

Totally depends on the quality of life on offer. I mean, you can often keep people alive in a hospital for years, even if they’d die in a few hours if they were discharged. People are probably more likely to see than as an argument for legalizing euthanasia than they are for progress being made towards immortality, though.

56 chuck martel March 15, 2016 at 5:59 am

“It is a well-known stylized fact that the share of health care in gdp is generally rising…”

That’s because the market is distorted by medical guilds and rent-seeking. Medical professionals, or doctors, if you will, were once what might be called “craftsmen”. They used a body of education and experience with a well-developed intuition to observe symptoms, make diagnosis and prescribe treatments. There was a large skill differential between very good doctors, who became famous for their work, and lesser pill pushers. This is no longer the case. Medical professionals are now technicians whose interaction with patients occurs through the use of advanced technology that involves little interpretation. Since less skill is involved in medicine because of technological advances medical care should, in fact, be dropping in cost dramatically, similar to agriculture where sophisticated machinery has replaced the labor of men and animals to make food prices much lower in real terms than they once were. Yet medical costs continue to skyrocket in a reversal of the benefits of technology.

57 So Much For Subtlety March 15, 2016 at 6:09 am

There was a large skill differential between very good doctors, who became famous for their work, and lesser pill pushers.

How do you know? Certainly some doctors had better reputations. That is not the same thing.

I agree in general about the rent seeking. However we are aging and so will spend more regardless. We are also richer and so can spend more. How much more would you spend for an extra six months with a loved one? How much could an African herder spend even if he wanted to?

58 chuck martel March 15, 2016 at 6:33 am

So you’re saying that all doctors, and, by implication all other professionals like attorneys and even economists, are of equal ability and talent. If so, why do some earn multiples of what others do? The point being made, should you care to address it, is that medical professionals are now technicians, using technology to diagnose and treat ailments, rather than craftsmen.

59 So Much For Subtlety March 15, 2016 at 6:42 am

I am saying that, actually, we don’t really know if doctors helped much before World War Two. Some doctors had good reputations but that does not mean they were curing people. That means people thought they were curing people.

Why do some earn more than others? Well some psychics earn more than others. That doesn’t mean they are better at foretelling the future.

Your main point I agree with. Certainly being a doctor is much less dependent on personal skills.

60 chuck martel March 15, 2016 at 6:36 am

“How much more would you spend for an extra six months with a loved one?”

How is that an option? Does a doctor say to a patient, “You’re going to die in six months but if you can come up with $100,000 we can extend that to a year.” Is that actually how medicine works?

61 So Much For Subtlety March 15, 2016 at 6:52 am

They certainly say they have some new drugs that on average extend life by six months. About half of all health spending is spent in the last six months of patients’ lives.

So yes, it is pretty much how medicine works. But only on average.

62 rayward March 15, 2016 at 6:37 am

Longer life is a realistic option if but only if there is money to be made from it (i.e., a market). Will those who can afford it be allowed to pay for a longer life while the vast majority of people are stuck (i.e., dead) at age 80? Of course, war and genocide and natural catastrophes lower the global average while economic growth (and the wealth it produces) increases the global average (by offering better nutrition, sanitation, and health care to many more people). Maybe the complete segregation of rich and poor will allow the rich to obtain a longer life by staying above the conflagration below. Elysium.

63 Skynet March 15, 2016 at 11:38 am

Alex linked to this piece 7 years ago:


64 Brett Champion March 15, 2016 at 8:00 am

“Which is better? A society with quite patient, very long-lived individuals with a static standard of living, or a society of people who die at eighty but manage to double living standards every generation? Which would we choose?”

That depends on what life is like in the part that extends beyond my normal lifespan. Would I age the way I do now, but just extend that out a greater number of years, or would the aging process itself be slowed down so it takes, say, 15 or 16 decades to go from the current equivalent of 15 to 80 years old? If the former, then give me the increase in living standards. If the latter, however, I’ll take the extended life. We may all die anyway, but I’m a middle class American, so my standard of living is already very good.

65 BenK March 15, 2016 at 8:23 am

I’d think that rising suicide rates would be a demonstration of at least one group of people sharing very different valuation of length of life vs quality of life, per se. There also doesn’t seem to be an obvious set point in consumption at which point quality drops below 0; I think we’ll need some more variables…

66 Cererean March 15, 2016 at 8:48 am

Perhaps the valid figure to look at for rate of growth is not growth per year, but growth per generation. If the length of a generation increase by a factor of 5, but the annual increase in growth (of population, technological base, economy etc) *decreases* by a factor of 5, then each succeeding generation is still as much better off than the preceding one as they would have been *without* life extension, they just have much longer to enjoy the benefits.

We’re already seeing people delaying becoming parents. I don’t think it’s an unreasonable prediction to suggest that we could see Bibilical (first 12 chapters of Genesis) ages for new parents, such as a century…

So, more of a stretching out of growth, than any real reduction.

67 tokarev March 15, 2016 at 9:06 am

At this point health care spending is barely giving us anything in terms of improved longevity or health anyway. Lifestyle factors dominate at these margins; it’s all about self-control. On the other hand, does anyone really think regular consumption spending is making our lives better at these margins?

Mostly what people care about are positional goods now. For example, not wanting to have to live in a terrifying neighborhood. But some percentage of the population has to live in terrifying neighborhoods.

68 dbp March 15, 2016 at 9:08 am

If the GDP is static, then can we assume an average real return on investment of zero? If so, you may live forever but you will also have to work forever too. If you ever retire, you will deplete your savings eventually since they are not growing, but you will continue to live and consume for an indefinite period of time.

69 Hazel Meade March 15, 2016 at 10:10 am

Why wouldn’t living longer and higher living standards go hand in hand?
Maybe if everyone retired at a fixed age and had to be supported by the rest of society. But I would assume that longer-lived people would also remain productive for longer.

Secondly “higher consumption” may simply mean “more people”.
So what’s better? A relatively small number of people living for a very long time, or a doubling of population every generation with shorter lifespans for everyone?

I’ll take door number 1, Bob.

70 Urso March 15, 2016 at 10:30 am

“A society with quite patient, very long-lived individuals with a static standard of living, or a society of people who die at eighty but manage to double living standards every generation?”
The economists’ fallacy once again – not even a moment’s thought what makes a good society good or bad (pleasant or unpleasant, whatever) is something other than objective, easily measurable metrics that can be conveniently distilled to graph form.

71 IVV March 15, 2016 at 10:35 am

How about being a super-long-lived person in a short-life world?

72 RustySynapses March 15, 2016 at 10:46 am

See, e.g., Methusalah’s Children by Heinlein.

73 Peldrigal March 15, 2016 at 10:54 am

The problem with predictions of the future is the assumption that society coordinates itself rationally


74 Ray Lopez March 15, 2016 at 11:01 am

Reminds me of the classic battle between Carthage vs Rome. Carthage was more “free market oriented” and “cost oriented”: they demanded their military leaders literally ‘do or die’ (crucifixion if they failed) and they dismantled their navy after a successful campaign to save money (admirable). Rome was more ‘slave / bread and circus / welfare / latifundium / constant warfare oriented. You would think Carthage “should have won” (free market vs communists would be the present analogy) –and with Hannibal they almost did–but they did not in the end. USA to fall to China (by analogy)? Time will tell.

75 Ray Lopez March 15, 2016 at 11:05 am

BTW, I believe Kissinger reversed the roles I described for Rome vs Carthage above, but this was for polemic effect (since Rome won, and he wanted the USA to be the winner vs the USSR, like Rome was vs Carthage) but historically what I said above is more accurate: Carthage was more free market oriented than Rome.

76 tokarev March 15, 2016 at 11:56 am

Sadly, I think USA falling to China is realistic, but not by conquest–at least not at first. USA seems to be cracking up and I can’t really see the country holding together much longer without fairly brutal suppression. The future looks very bright for China. I predict China as the world’s lone superpower by 2050.

77 Walt G March 15, 2016 at 11:13 am

Ask me when I’m 80.

78 Yancey Ward March 15, 2016 at 11:54 am

One can simply hypothesize that effective immortality in young adulthood is the goal. However, to get there, some people are going to have to brave the life extension through old age infirmities.

In my opinion, I was probably born at least 50 years too early to reach that idealized goal- I am 49 today, and I assume I will live to about 80. The question for me is- do I fight to the bitterest end to live to 100+ in hopes that I am just a little too pessimistic (and that is the right word in my case). Do I have myself frozen in case I don’t make it far enough.

Tyler asks, “Which would we choose?” I would first ask him, “Who is this ‘we’ he is talking about?”

79 Todd Kreider March 15, 2016 at 5:50 pm

Assuming good health, why assume at 49 that you will live to about 80, the current life expectancy? The top longevity researchers, who occasionally give interviews, already think the first pills are either available now (NR and pterostilbine supplements) or will be soon –metformin and rapamycin — which already have FDA approval for diabetes and kidney transplants, respectively and are in human longevity extension trials.

Nobody knows to what extent healthy life can be extended, but the range is 5 to 20 years, maybe closer to 5 years. So if a 49 year old starts taking something like this at age 51 in 2018, he would be at a somewhat less risk or getting cancer or cardiovascular disease (not miracle pills yet) while likely pushing back “elderly” from say 75 to 80 and shifting life expectancy from 80 to 85. But thanks to our friend, accelerating increasing computer power, the current 49 year old in 2016 who soon expects as a 51 year old in 2018 to live to 87 then sees that better pills and some stem cell rejuvenation in 2023 when he is 56 now sees that a very active 90+ years is likely.

Unlike Greg Mankew’s $400 a day super-Dorian-Gray pill that he wrote about in his 2009 column , the first much more health/anti-aging (take your pick) pills are likely to cost closer to $4 a day based on what a few longevity researchers are guessing. .

The vast majority have it locked in that almost everyone dies before 90 as if that was a lost 11th Commandment. It is hard wired into our brains in part because marriage, having children and work revolve around ages when that is supposed to happen. There can be some deviations so long as you don’t stray outside of what is “obvious”- that even if you lived past 90, you would be pretty fail and often with dementia. These scientists think it is realistic to have a rapid decline at some point- 100, 120, maybe longer – instead of years or decades of decline.

80 Yancey Ward March 15, 2016 at 7:27 pm

Todd, it is all “guessing”. Sure, by the time I am 80, maybe my expectation will change. Maybe I do make it to 100 or 110. Maybe I am being a bit pessimistic.

81 carlolspln March 15, 2016 at 9:44 pm


Ha ha!

After you!!

[the naivety on this topic is alternately hilarious & touching @ once]

82 Todd Kreider March 15, 2016 at 10:58 pm

I’m just quoting top longevity researchers. Like I said, I understand why the topic is hard for a lot to wrap their heads around. Economists are always the last to know… I didn’t say Metformin is a wonder drug, but it is in a trial to see to what extent it helps those over 70, if at all.

Consider what the experts are saying:

Cynthia Kenyon, now at Google’s start up Calico, said in 2011: “And when I tell people about this, they tend to think of maybe an 80 or 90 year-old person who looks really good for being 90 or 80. But it’s really more like this: let’s say you’re a 30 year-old guy — or in your 30s — and you’re a bachelor and you’re dating people. And you meet someone you really like, you get to know her. And you’re in a restaurant, and you say, “Well how old are you?” She says, “I’m 60.” That’s what it’s like. And you would never know. You would never know, until she told you.” (She says this will happen one day and has even used the more extreme example of a 40 year old man interested in a woman his age until she reveals, “I’m 92”)

David Sinclair ,Harvard, in 2014: “That’s a shame. But it’s [funding on longevity] increasing and what I’m excited about and hope you can get excited about is the potential for revolutionary change and not just incremental change in medicine. And imagine going to your doctor for a drug for your Alzheimer’s disease or to prevent it, and it will prevent cancer and heart disease and improve your sex life and all that sort of stuff We’re talking about medicines, and it’s not a joke that we are seeing particular molecules that have massive benefits across the body. Rapamacn is one, resveratrol is pretty good, there’s another called metformin , which is currently on the market. And the combination of these could potentially have a dramatic effect on lifespan. And new drugs are in development – just around the corner. Some of these molecules are already in clinic trials. [notice the “new drugs” part]

“So the future looks bright. We’re going as fast as we can given the current funding, but I hope you’re as excited about the future as much as I am ”

See what Brian Kennedy, Leonard Guarente, Linda Partridge and others say about anti aging pills. This isn’t the level of a Liptor pill Mankiw said he takes that spares 1 in 140 of a heart attack among those who take it.

83 carlolspln March 16, 2016 at 1:26 am

Give Mankiw the Metformin.

& a tip for young players: biology is hard.

84 Dangerman March 15, 2016 at 11:55 am

Relevant “Blade Runner” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VjbAgwdBaTI

85 Judah Benjamin Hur March 15, 2016 at 11:55 am

I’d much rather see my family grow over the next 200 years than vacation on the moon. There is a certain level of poverty, pain, and disability that I would not want to endure permanently, but as long as life is decent, I’d much prefer longevity.

86 Lord March 15, 2016 at 12:42 pm

So all that knowledge that dies with us really isn’t valuable? May differ depending on extension of productive careers or extension of retired senility, as well as independence preserving or dependent warehousing.

87 Cooper March 15, 2016 at 1:10 pm

A society in which people live for centuries will be a society filled with reactionaries.

Imagine if Congress were filled with people born in the 1800s and that the median voter was 160 years old.

Would that society be interested in cultural change? Probably not.

They say science advances one funeral at a time. Imagine if all the scientific luminaries lived forever, would they be interested in challenging age old theories? Again, probably not.

You need youth and vigor in a society in order to challenge the existing order every now and then. Otherwise civilization stagnates and existing norms become rigid dogmas.

88 Stephan Bar March 15, 2016 at 2:51 pm

If aging was conquered, then no one would be old, no brain would be old but would retain the plasticity and curiosity of youth.I would say there would be no intrinsic resistance to change. Experience however would be a useful guide.

89 Cererean March 15, 2016 at 2:54 pm

Well, it managed to stagnate for most of human history, even with people living quite short lives compared to today…

There’s always other planets for people to start new societies. Or they could wait their turn, when they’re 150 years old and the oldies have died off.

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