The Economics of Signing Up for Cryonics

Via Marginal Revolution:

If [cryonics] works, the benefits are high, and the probability of it working is greater than zero. Yet few people sign up for it. I think that we are afraid of looking weird if we sign up for it.

The way to think about how and why people make decisions is to look at costs and benefits - which go far beyond mere money, of course. The discussion in the post revolves around "looking weird" as a cost. That's important for we folk descended from apes, possessed of a deep-seated and hardwired need for peer validation. Other costs exist, such as the need to get up and sort out paperwork - people die and become sick in many ways through similar laziness, especially in health matters stretched across the years. I think the comments to the post demonstrate that the more important costs are the perceived financial ones, however.

I suspect the eccentric childless millionaire demographic is overrepresented. Who else can afford it?

People look at the pay-at-the-door cost of cryonic suspension and decide they can't afford it, that cryonics is only for the rich. That is very much not the case, however. Next to no-one pays for their suspension in a lump sum at the door. Instead it's done via assignment of a life insurance policy for a very small number of dollars per month. There have been very few cryosuspensions of extremely wealthy people.

This suggests to me that if cryonics organizations want to grow, they should stop outsourcing organization of payment. Cryonics should be marketed from the very first touch to the potential customer as an insurance service you pay for monthly: people understand that, and do it all the time. What you are buying is cryosuspension should you be unfortunate enough to die, and the cryonics company handles the mechanisms of insurance - or however else the finances are sorted out - behind the scenes.

Monthly income for a company also allows for the sort of growth and professionalization that has been a challenge in the cryonics industry under the present model of funding for research and development. All in all, a potential win-win situation. One might ask why it hasn't been tried yet.


"This suggests to me that if cryonics organizations want to grow, they should stop outsourcing organization of payment."

This isn't practical since determining the right price to charge for life insurance is extremely complex and so Cryonics providers would have to devote lots of resources to this if they didn't outsource.

Also, if you sell life insurance and don't have lots and lots of customers you assume a huge financial risk. Since any cryonics provider must convince potential customers that it will be around for a long time, this financial risk would doom any provider that didn't oursource life insurance.

Posted by: James D. Miller at July 15th, 2008 8:41 AM

Cryonics companies should really target famous personalities by offering them free cryo-suspension. Imagine for example what it would do for their business if Nelson Mandela took advantege of their servicces.

Posted by: Marco Da Silva at July 15th, 2008 9:09 AM

I see a couple problems with your proposal, Reason. One, cryonics organizations have a poor record of handling money, unlike most long-established insurance companies like New York Life. I wouldn't trust a cryonics society to provide both insurance and suspensions because your money could literally disappear just before you need it. And I say this as a long-time cryonicist and observer of the situation.

Two, if you have more than one cryonics service provider, and the one you've currently made arrangements with gets into some kind of trouble or otherwise proves unsatisfactory, you can more easily switch arrangements to a different organization paid for with an insurance policy provided by an outside company.

Marco Da Silva's idea of soliciting famous people for free cryosuspensions also sounds dubious. Famous people on average, unless they drew attention to themselves from accomplishing something useful, have little more going for them than the people you see standing in line at the liquor story waiting to buy lottery tickets. Some cryonicists regret not getting to freeze Timothy Leary, for example, but why him? Talk about making heroes out of the wrong people!

Posted by: Mark Plus at July 15th, 2008 8:02 PM

Cryonics organizations should first freeze a cat keep it frozen for a month and bring it back.
Until that day I would go for a religion that offers life after death.
It is the same life cryonics offers and it is free.

Posted by: antitheto at July 19th, 2008 12:46 AM

Unlike a religion at least there is a small chance you could come back. It does depend on technology that is not developed yet and thus cannot be guaranteed, which is always important to make clear to potential members. Of course it is important to continue to develop the technology and work towards being able to vitrify and reanimate a mouse but I feel we won't be there for a while.

Posted by: salyavin at August 14th, 2008 10:43 AM

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