A Brief Libertarian Interlude

As a general rule, I don't feel it necessary to include the Standard Libertarian Disclaimer in everything I write. For sundry well-thought-out reasons, I'm not a supporter of government funding, and barely a supporter of the very existence of government. Freedom means far more than living in a representative democracy of eroding rights, strong property rights are necessary for progress, and the rule of law is vital. Incentives matter, and economic ignorance is the doom of cultures.

Most of the ills that beset the world can be traced back to our distressing tendency to build and support governments that destroy the roots of progress, wealth and freedom - and the remaining ills, such as degenerative aging, could be solved through sufficiently rapid advances in technology. These rapid advances depend, of course, on progress, wealth and freedom.

Most regular readers will know by now that I am a generally pragmatic libertarian:

Western style democracies are about as far as you can get from a libertarian society and still have a place that's moderately pleasant, free and safe to live in - so long as you blend in and don't make enemies amongst the powerful. Many people believe that high tax rates and lack of freedom (due to a winner-takes-all majority rule system of government and the preponderance of unaccountable, unelected officials) are the necessary cost of personal safety in a modern civilization. The only high profile modern alternatives - dictatorships - are invariably very much worse places to live, after all. But it is simply not true that we need high taxes, large government, and unaccountable officials: there are better ways of doing things.

In any case, how does this little sidebar fit in with healthy life extension? The answer is that in a world of large government, in which a good 35% of all medical research funding is provided by government grants, you can't ignore the system. It is an open question as to whether public funding for medicine speeds the rate at which real anti-aging and healthy life extension therapies are made available more than other aspects of a large government slow things down. For example, it is well known and documented that high taxes have a devastating effect on the economic engine that powers growth, commercialization and advancing technology.

As an individual, you can't change the system on a useful timescale. People are making serious organized attempts to create more libertarian societies, but this has little direct bearing on the large scale advance of real anti-aging science over the next decade or two.

Hence, we come to pragmatism. Between the two biggest problems I see in life - a) that we are aging and will all suffer and die if nothing is done, and b) that society is far less free and honest than it could be - aging is clearly the problem to be dealt with first. There's a time limit attached to it, and I am very much a first things first type of person.

So I draw my lines in a pragmatic manner. At the moment, I support working within the system to the extent of protesting government restrictions on research (although a more libertarian postion would be that any such interaction with government has the undesirable effect of legitimizing the very system you oppose). I'm not a big fan of the California stem cell research ballot initiative, but only because I think that too much (big government restriction and interference) bad is coming with the (research dollars) good on that one. Private projects like the Methuselah Mouse Prize, or any number of foundations and research groups are just fine in my book.

You folks should draw your lines where you please. I'm not a jealous libertarian, like some I could mention, and I'm certainly not telling you what to do. If you are comfortable with living in a Western democracy, more power to you; in a truly plural society you would be able to do so without forcing me to do so to as well. But we don't yet have such a thing, and probably won't until new frontiers - space, virtual nations, ocean living, floating cities in the upper atmosphere, and so forth - are opened up through advancing technology.

I'd be willing to take a first things first, utilitiarian approach to government funding if I thought it would lead to a net gain in longevity over the alternatives - better to be alive to build a libertarian society in the future, as opposed to dead, buried and no help at all. Supporting government funding means supporting massive waste and inefficiency in the use of those funds, however. It also means tacitly supporting vast damage to progress across the board; this is not good.

Why this little interlude? It seems that the absence of the Standard Libertarian Disclaimer in posts, critical and otherwise, and the last weekly Longevity Meme newsletter on the topic of the Longevity Dividend proposal caused a couple of folk to grumble about my endorsement of large-scale government funding. I can assure you that no such endorsement exists! My enthusiasm is related to the fact that the recalcitrant mainstream of gerontology has finally cracked, its core members coming out to endorse specific goals for healthy life extension in public. For any of us following matters - or pitching in to help - over the past few years, this is a terrific development and validation of our work.

As to the government funding side of the Longevity Dividend initiative - seeking $3 billion per year for defined goals in anti-aging science - well, these are mainstream scientists in the US. Did you really expect anything else to be their next step after the declaration of intent?

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