There's something about the prospect of beneficial technological and medical progress that drives some people a little batty. Witness the slide off into the deep morass in this report:
In his research, Tuljapurkar selected representative populations from different countries around the world and examined relationships between historical trends in aging, population growth and economic activity. His analysis combined these data with forecasts on the future of anti-aging treatments from leading researchers in the field.
The result? "We've come up with a scenario: Starting around 2010, we could see lifespan increase dramatically," he predicted.
Tuljapurkar estimated that between 2010 and 2030, the modal, or most common, age of death will increase by 20 years if anti-aging therapies come into widespread use. This projected increase reflects a lifespan growth rate that is five times faster than the current rate, increasing the modal age of death in industrialized countries such as the United States from roughly 80 years to 100.
Tuljapurkar warned that the distribution of anti-aging technologies is likely to be in the hands of companies that have a history of focusing solely on profit rather than the imperative to distribute medicines to those who need them most.
"Big pharmaceutical companies have a well-established track record of being very difficult when it comes to making things available to those who can't pay for them," he said.
If anti-aging technologies are distributed in the unchecked free market, "it's entirely likely to me that we'll wind up with permanent global underclasses, countries that will get locked into today's mortality conditions," Tuljapurkar said. As the gap widens and rich countries continue to invest in anti-aging technologies, the developed world may become increasingly less willing to disseminate the technology to other nations, he said: "If that happens, you get negative feedback, a vicious circle. Those countries that get locked out stay locked out."
"What we've tended to do historically with medical advances is to take the reasonable position that we should implement everything that comes along," Tuljapurkar said. "However, we are now approaching a stage where it's necessary to look the implications before we rush in--at least so we can prepare ourselves. We need to confront the prospect of inequality head-on, instead of waiting 10 years and then saying, 'What a surprise!'"
I find it very strange that apparently intelligent people can field this sort of argument. Replace working anti-aging medicine with, say, working heart transplants, or working kidney dialysis and see how far you get in trying to convince people that suppliers in the developed world are keeping such technologies out of the hands of others, or that we must stop using medicine that is not universally available. Quite aside from the glaring failure to understand simple economics, it is deeply depressing that we live in a world in which people argue for the enforcement of large-scale, preventable suffering and death.
Life is unfair, make no mistake. People are unequal in opportunity, capacity and the hand they were dealt at birth. To think that this truth can be removed in any way, shape or form is to betray a profound ignorance of economics and the human condition. You cannot make life better at the bottom by tearing down the top; the top is where progress happens, progress that lifts the quality of life for everyone. Punishing success in order to reward failure has predictable results - more failure and less success. The wealthy of 1950 were far worse off than the poor of today precisely because progress brings economic rewards to the successful.
Arguments based on inequality are, at root, made from a misunderstanding - willful or otherwise - of the way in which wealth, medicine and technology are best created. Rapid progress for all requires a free market, strong rule of law and property rights. Such a culture necessarily has a power law distribution of ownership and success. There's a reason the US has led the world in technology, for all that it's going to the dogs nowadays - it's the flip side of the reason that communism, socialism and the politics of envy lead to poverty and suffering.
Creating "equality" by taking from the successful ruins the creation of wealth - very much a non-zero sum game - for all. It takes away the vital incentives and rewards for success. At the end of the process, as demonstrated by all that transpired in the Soviet Union, you are left with the same old inequalities, but now taking place amongst ruins, starvation and disease.
Economic ignorance is the death of cultures; it is presently eating away at the US, and is sadly most advanced in medicine and medical research. People who favor equality and envy over wealth and progress are, unfortunately, usually comparatively wealthy themselves and thus largely insulated from the short-term consequences of their ignorance. These dangerous philistines will have to decide in the years ahead whether their dearly-held positions are worth losing their lives to, not to mention the lives of everyone they manage to kill - at the rate of 100,000 with each and every day of delay on the way to working anti-aging technologies.
Fighting economic ignorance is very much a part of fighting for longer, healthier lives - because economic ignorance is the root of objections, delay and destructive regulation and governance. It's also at the root of darker paths best not taken, such as government-mandated limits to life span. We should remember that.
Technorati tags: economics, libertarian, life extension