A Little Economics and Healthy Life Extension

Following up on a recent call for an economic analysis of staged radical life extension - progression through ever-better medical technologies and ever-greater extensions of healthy life span to reach a form of actuarial escape velocity, always a step ahead of age-related degeneration - Michael Rae has unearthed a 1979 Laurence J. Kotlikoff paper entitled "Some Economic Implications of Life Span Extension" that I think you'll find interesting. The full PDF version is online, a graphic reminder of a time in which typewriters ruled the earth:

This paper is concerned with the following question: what would the economy look like if we suddenly discovered the fountain of youth? While this question may seem fanciful, a growing number of contemporary Ponce de Leons with impressive scientific credentials argue that there is a significant chance of unraveling the mystery of aging in the near future.


In this paper I concentrate on the implications of life span extension for aggregate factor supply and economic welfare. While this the major focus of the paper, I also devote some space to consideration of life span extension's impact on the economy's skill composition and on existing economic institutions, including the social security system.

The major conclusion I draw from my work is that the expansion of working and total life spans should significantly increase economic welfare.


Throughout the paper, "life span extension" is taken to mean keeping people young for longer periods of time. This is quite different from what one conventionally means by life span extension, namely, keeping old people alive for longer periods.

Ah, how we still struggle with this young (healthy) life extension versus old life extension perception today! We call it the Tithonus Error. As we all know, the past generation of advocates failed to establish a research program to match that devoted to cancer or even AIDS, and the widespread public support and understanding such a program requires. The science turned out, as it always does, to be far more complex than anticipated. Hence today we can read a paper set down in 1979 with few signs of its date beyond the typefont. We must do far better now and over the next 25 years - hundreds of millions of lives will be lost if we fail again.

On a slightly related topic, the Wall Street Journal ran a prominent article on the legal methodologies of keeping your finances frozen and yours while in cryonic suspension and thus legally dead. The full text is posted at transhumantech as is usual for this sort of thing:

At least a dozen wealthy businessmen who plan to be frozen after death are testing unfamiliar legal territory by creating so-called personal revival trusts designed to allow them to reclaim their riches years into the future.

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