Would immortals be libertarian?

Arnold Kling posed the question.  Let’s go further and say these people reprogram themselves to behave like true immortals, rather than sticking with their inherited and earlier evolved biological intuitions. 

If we assume monotonicity (and why shouldn’t we?), we can draw inferences from societies with short life expectancies.  They are extremely superstitious, willing to entertain tyranny, and hardly libertarian.  Try teaching Henry Hazlitt in the Congo.  More generally, pending death makes us think of honor, patriotism, and in-group solidarity

If longer lives move us away from such feelings, yes some immortals would be quite libertarian.  That is one direction a tolerant and secular morality can take, but that is hardly the end of the story.  Many more immortals would become non-theistic, rational constructivist, cosmopolitan Benthamite modern liberals, much like Matt Yglesias or Brad DeLong.  I believe the elasticity of ideological adjustment is greater in this direction.  Those views, and the libertarians, would grow in popularity at the expense of the middle, but I doubt if the libertarians would become a majority or even a plurality.

In other words, a society of immortals would become more like…uh…the blogosphere.

Most of all, I would expect more libertarian attitudes toward social issues.  Immortals are going to want to try everything, and why not? 

Another factor is the declining scarcity of time.  I recall, as a kid, seeing a made-for-TV movie about immortals.  None of them had plans or homes.  They all lived under a bridge, with the bums, and behaved wantonly.  They wanted to behave without social constraint, and that meant shedding their reputations and in essence going on the lam.  They figured there was always more time to shape up, slip back into a reputation, and run a major corporation.  But how did they vote?


It is important that the "immortals" being discussed by Kling are not truly immortal. They can still die violent deaths from accidents, etc.

That situation alone suggests that these people would be anything but libertarian in certain respects. What kind of traffic laws would you favor? What kinds of safety rules? You would want these things to be very strict. A 20 mph speed limit on the interstate would be fine, as would very harsh penalties for offenses. Who cares if it takes a long time to get places, as long as the chance of an accident is low.

Since you can also die of homicide, you would be very cautious about dealing with potentially violent people. Someone acts threatening? Lock him up.

Your optimism is encouraging, but... a culture in which life span is long, but death is still inevitable is not the same thing as a culture in which life span is infinite unless something "gets" you. The latter could lead to all sorts of bizarre superstitions and would, as Bernard points out, probably have a hyper-obsession with safety.

Actually, many youth seem to do extreme hyperbolic discounting, completely ignoring
the future in order to have a good time right now, no matter the consequences.

The very old empirically go the other way, although this may be a survivor effect,
they are the ones who did not hyperbolically discount when younger. But, in fact
one of the little-remarked upon empirical oddities out there is that savings rates
actually increase with age beyond a certain point, in sharp contrast with what one
would expect from the usual Friedman-Modigliani kind of argument.

I think you shouldn't assume monotonicity because of Gregory Bateson's Rule #11: There are no monotone "values" in biology. See MIND AND NATURE, p. 53

I also do not think a society will become less risk averse with regards to driving and what not. Present day "young" people think they are immortal and, yet, do all kinds of crazy things. Why would it be any different with post-mortal "young" people in the future?

But there's a big difference. The young people who believe they are immortal think that bad things like car accidents will not happen to them. Your "post-mortals" will know better.

But here's a thought. Would we see an increase in what we now consider unhealthy behaviors? Would there be lots of smoking, overeating, etc.? It seems to me to depend on what happens to disease. Just because lung cancer would no longer be fatal, does that mean that smokers would not do any noticeable damage to their lungs, for example?

Post-mortals would know better and have a much greater understand of risk-reward trade-off. However, I still do not think that they will be as risk-averse as many people think they will be. Also, if they are not risk-averse enough to avoid unhealthy behaviors, why would they be risk-averse such as to demand unreasonable speed limits and the like?

In the long run, regenerative biomedicine will allow people to survive and recover from accidents and other situations (car crashes, etc.) that currently cripple or kill people today. This would also reduce risk-aversion.

You would want these things to be very strict. A 20 mph speed limit on the interstate would be fine, as would very harsh penalties for offenses.

Except there's good reason to expect that immortals, who have all the time in the world and should not run the risk of driving ast, would still find driving 20mph on the expressway as maddening as we do. Why? Because these immortals will still have same sorts of brains and the same human nature that we have now. Yes, people expecting a relatively short life do behave differently than those expecting a long life. But not all *that* differently. The amount of flexibility is quite limited.

My argument was based on the fact that 50% of government spending (http://www.usgovernmentspending.com/index.php) is for age-related programs (SS and medicare). A society consisting of post-mortals would not need these programs and, thusly, they could go away.

The good news is you can live forever (or at least until you're run over by a bus). The bad news is you never get to retire ;)

Seriously, I suspect people without a fixed lifespan would still be motivated to build up a large enough fortune to become independently wealthy and quit working.

This is the reason why I believe that curing aging (www.sens.org) should be the first priority of libertarians.

But a partial cure for aging (e.g. extending the human lifespan by a few decades, say) would tend to *increase* the demands on Social Security as people lived gradually longer after retirement (would the retirement age keep pace with the increasing lifespan?)

And who's to say that the cure for aging would not involve lots of ongoing medical attention? Suppose it did, and suppose this medical attention was expensive -- wouldn't this increase the demands on the government to provide all this service free of charge? I mean, who would accept poor people living the old lifespan and rich people living 150 or 200 years?

I think long-lived old people would folow the course their lives had come to make them expect. Bruce Sterling has a novel, "Holy Fire", about an old woman who is rejuvenated and promptly buys a Eurorail Pass and a backpack and sets off on the student circuit. I read that an immediately thought "Aha! One of MY contemporaries!" I was born in 1939.

On the other hand, the old people I knew when I was a child would have become more and more conservative with immortality. Why? Because their formative years included social unrest, World War I, the Roaring 20s and the crash, the Great Depression, and World War II. ANYTHING to keep the sort of chaos that had filled their entire lives from happening again!

Whereas mine have lived our entire lives in a rising boom and lots of interesting things happening, with which we were well equipped to deal, and are now collecting experiences before we go softly into that good night.


Reading the various scenarios in the comments, I can easily do a cohort biobraphy of each and every sort of elder they describe.

I figured as a vampire, I'd have some insight to add.

I am strongly anti-libertarian. I want as little economic growth as possible. Why? More growth, sooner Singularity. When the Singularity hits, *everyone* will be immortal, and then where's my advantage?

I imagine that immortals would be for the most part unmotivateed - to innovate, excel, really anything. Perhaps early in life there might be some curiosity, but once settled into the permanent middle-age/older-age state, I have to think that an immortal would be sort of bored.


What's the evidence that this pattern of behavior reflects simple age, rather than age as a fraction of expected lifespan, or physical/mental changes as a result of age?

It is interesting how different various people's assumptions are regarding what is meant by "immortality". There are several notable possibilities.

1) Immortality is achieved as part of the singularity. Don't bother going there, life will not be as we know it. All of the following assume a pre-singularity senario.

2) The first question has to be "at what cost?" Suppose we figure out a way to do brain transplants between adults. That is, that immortality can be achieved at the cost of killing another human being every forty years. Such immortals would probably favor a corporate police state, as they can hide their existence easier that way.

Suppose the cost was $100k/yr, and that this cost was not expected to go down. Again, resentment from the other classes become the dominant problem. You want some sort of corporate police state.

Suppose the cost was $10k/yr. Now you have a huge demand to socialize the costs. The welfare state expands to cover the costs. Freeloading becomes much, much more common.

Suppose the cost was $1m/person. That is, within the reach of the middle class if they REALLY push for it. Now you have a serious intergenerational problem as well as a class problem. Society becomes very interested in the longish-term (20-40yr) effects of policy on wealth. (That is, probably significantly more libertarian, as well as becoming harsher with the remaining criminals--no more "life" sentences, no more multi-million dollar government-paid appeals process for death sentences.)

3) The type of immortality makes a substantial difference as well. If by immortality, you mean "immune to 'normal' wear and tear", then concern is going to focus severely on contraints against more than "normal" wear and tear--not a whole lot of skyjumpers.

If it additionally means periodic uploading into storage for later retrieval, the cost of the retrieval makes a great difference. $1m? $10k? $1k? $100? Hey, if I can buy immortality insurance for $100, I'll skyjump next weekend!

Our immortals WON'T die from lung cancer or liver poisioning, but will nicotine & alcohol affect them in the normal way at all? Will other intoxicants be demanded? Absynthe?

4) Finally, there will likely be deep, deep differences in the way that immortals perceive the world. For starters, I hypothesized as a teenager that we subjectively measure time as a ratio of our conscious existence. I can sit for an hour now with nothing to do and not even notice. When I was ten? Please. So the twenty mph speed limit is not out of the bounds of likelihood, depending on other factors.

As our experiences broaden, we become more difficult to impress. I really, really find amusement parks to be pointless, except for my kids. And the side shows? Again, please. Boredom is likely to be a serious issue for someone more than a couple of thousand years old.

Speaking of boredom, the immortal are probably going to want to set aside even more "nature preserves" of one sort or another. Land prices will skyrocket quite aside from population increases (which will likely slow.) The immortal are likely to become more and more politically active, as they realize just how much is at personal risk.

With death no longer making room at the top, boredom (of a sort) will likely dominate. Note also that tolerance for inneffectual leadership will plummet.

Childbearing will likely get put way, way off unless the cost of immortality is low. Why have kids now if they will literally send you to your grave by preventing you from accumulating the funds to achieve immortality? That's entirely aside from the resource problem if people don't, and social pressures. People are likely to literally make their first $10m, then retire to raise children, then find something else to do.

Speaking of children, the whole eugenics issue takes some strange turns. Do you want you children, who will be your eventual competitors, to be able to outcompete you? There are multiple equalibria here, with historical examples, depending on how individualistic the immortals are/become.

5) I don't think that suicide will be out of the question. Curing physical illness does not imply curing mental illness. People might just get bored. Whole bunch of self-determinacy issue arise there.

Interesting question: Suppose your mental state varies in a kind of random walk--how happy or miserable you are tomorrow is a function of today's happiness + some random drift. At some point of misery, you will kill yourself. We'd expect every immortal to eventually die by suicide, right? It's just the gambler's ruin in another guise.

How will immortality affect my discount rate? If I'm still wired to have a 30-40 year time horizon, the world looks very different from one in which I have a time horizon of 500 years or something.

If you postulate that the cost of getting immortality (or another lifespan) is high, then I think the problem solves itself. Five years on the NYFD = one rejuvenation treatment. Or whatever.

Most dangerous jobs have a certain amount of flexibility, in the sense that there's some available tradeoff between danger and equipment. We've moved this way already, but I'd expect even more movement in this direction.

Niven's Known Space stories have the Puppeteers, which are beings with very low risk tolerance. (Only the insane among them are ever seen in person by dangerously unpredictable and hotheaded humans.) I'm not sure I buy all his extrapolations, but it's a start. There must be other super-risk-averse characters from SF I'm not thinking of....

I'm sceptical of the idea of immortals wanting to try *everything*. This might just be what we think immortals would be like. Personally I like the idea of building a uniqe life, that is my own, and has consistency, progression and theme over time. If there exists numerous other people, why should *I* need to try everything; be everyone. This of course necessitates radical cognitive extension, since I'm purposefully closing off some areas of activity that otherwise would have been available to me.
Cautiosness might become big if you're around forever, paying for your mistakes/transgressions is then very costly.
This also creates a market for identity change/hiding your crimes.
Regarding high land cost: This is another good reason to switch into uploading as soon as possible. Moore's law gives us double computing storage every year, when was the last time someone built a new physical planet for us to live on?

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