Death (By Degenerative Aging) and Taxes

Death and taxes, the age-old twosome. There are certain similarities between attitudes and possible approaches to the two; death by degenerative aging on the one hand and government theft backed by threat of force on the other.

The first similarity of note lies in behaviors of learned helplessness and rationalization of the unpleasant when faced with aging and taxation. Sure, people worm around and try to make their position as least uncomfortable as possible - but the majority are doing so within the rules laid down, within the firm belief that death by aging (and the resulting suffering) and taxation (and the resultant waste) are both set in stone.

The second item of note is that by banding together we can dramatically change or remove both death by aging (through the advance of biotechnology) and taxation (through changing our society). The only way the world changes is through human action, whether that action is the discovery of science or the changing of minds. Neither death by aging nor taxation is set in stone, but changing their solid present existence for everyone will first require sufficient ongoing education to change the expectations and level of understanding for most people - to change them from supporters of the status quo, no matter how bad, to supporters of a better future, and willing participants in bringing about that future.

On the one hand, we have the understanding of economics and expectations of government, and on the other hand we have the understanding of progress in biotechnology and the expectations of medical science. For most people, at this time, dearly-held beliefs and instinctive responses are widely divergent from reality:

These great tasks are very hard, but not impossible; distributed, co-operating groups of humans have attained equally challenging goals in the past. Societies and science can be made to change dramatically in half a lifetime. The development of a toolkit for the repair of age-related damage, and elimination of parasitic government and taxation, would lead to a society far less burdened by waste, both of lives and resources - a society in which growth, progress and individual lives are far greater than in the present time. That is well worth the tremendous, distributed, ongoing effort it will take to change minds and set people to working on a better tomorrow.

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Actually it's a lot more likely you'd be dead without taxes, since we need (a) Tons of cash to finance anti-aging research in the first place and (b) Enough cash personally available to us to be able to afford the treatments when they arrive.

Really I admire your zeal for the anti-aging cause but the Libertarain stuff just isn't helping the cause.

The vast majority of people most educated in economics (i.e academic economists) don't support Libertarian economic views. Read Robin Hanson's post on the 'Overcoming Bias' blog (Future of Humanity Institute):

3:1 economists are liberal. As I pointed out in the comments section:


... the liberal dominance "...might be due to academics being more intelligent and informed"

The fact is that liberal positions are overwhelming the dominant academic view-point even among economists ;) It's not as if economics is a new field. It's a mature field with plenty of data. It seems hard to believe that (for example) there's some sort of systematic bias magically rendering 75% of all economists the inability to think straight (3:1 ratio of liberals to others in economics). Therefore a priori the suspicion of irrationality must fall on the dissenters (the non liberals).

Posted by: Marc_Geddes | November 27, 2006 at 11:24 PM

In his reply Hanson concedes the point:

Marc, yes, if all we knew was that academics tended to favor a position, after correcting for any obvious self-interest, then we would think that view more likely than not to be correct. Knowing that the issue is a social one weakens the effect, but the effect is still there.

Posted by: Robin Hanson | November 27, 2006 at 11:30 PM

The 'Scientific American' article says it all really:

Posted by: Marc_Geddes at December 26th, 2006 9:56 PM

Marc: I believe you have a point regarding taxes, and I also believe that the putative link between death and taxes was somewhat specious, more to take advantage of the old Franklin quote than anything else. However, I think you might want to be careful about generalizing from the tenuous death-taxes link to your more general point about libertarianism. In particular, I'm thinking not of the tax burden but of the regulatory burden, the latter of which definitely throws obstacles in the path of potentially visionary research. Libertarianism is more directly opposed to intrusive government regulation than either conventional conservative or liberal orthodoxy. I don't see a particularly obvious link between progressive taxation or redistributionist spending and stunted research efforts, but the link is clearly there between the regulatory hurdles and the protraction of product development times. Considering that many new products build on previous ones, these delays compound over the years into decades of potentially wasted time--a resources that may, for millions of people, be more precious and scarce than mere cash.

Posted by: Gramarye at December 28th, 2006 3:37 PM

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