Let’s say you could live a long time – a very long time. Say 2, 3, or even 5 hundred years. How would you support yourself? Would you want to “work” for a several hundred years before you were allowed to enjoy the fruits of your labors? How would a few hundred years of retirement affect the economy when nearly everyone is in retirement that long? After all, the idea has already been floated that the “sub-prime mortgage crisis” has been caused, at least in part, by European pensioners looking for investments in the US, because the shrinking labor force in Europe (due to all the retirements and low birth rates) is not worth investing in.
And what about the cost of all the health care that a growing population of 200 and 300 year olds will need? What about that? The worst thing may be Paul Ehrlich‘s worst nightmare – a real population bomb – unless we stop having children. Do we really want to swap children for the elderly?
Don’t give up on the idea of extreme longevity just yet. Here’s an alternate scenario. It’s possible that, since you have enough time to learn to do most anything well (and enough time to try your hand at many different things), you might become tremendously self-sufficient, essentially producing what you need only for yourself, and very little for others (and purchasing or trading for very little from others). Or, even more optimistically, you and millions of other people who have accumulated centuries of expertise in several disciplines (and have an unprecedented opportunity to combine them in unique ways) may achieve tremendous levels of productivity and generate unimaginable wealth, not only for themselves, but for their communities. That’s a very different economic model than the one we’ve been successful with, as a society, for nearly a century and a half in this country, and either way, we don’t have to stop having children. There will be plenty for them.
This [the old] way of looking at things is very much a function of the limited medical technology of today. When you can ensure increased longevity with accompanying extension of health – which is very much not the focus of mainstream aging and late-life disease research today – economic problems go away. Daniel Perry has it right: a healthy, working person at any age is a net producer of wealth. The more healthy people that exist, and the longer they live, the more wealth is produced.
It’s true that extreme longevity will present extreme challenges to society, social arrangements, and many government functions that we take for granted. But it’s not unimaginable that the benefits will be just as extreme.
We should prepare, because extreme longevity is coming, like it or not.
Hat tip to Rand Simberg.