Wars are Fought Over a Few Percentage Points of GNP

GNP is Gross National Product, more or less the sum value of all services and products produced in a year by the inhabitants of a given nation. The value is staggeringly large for the US, somewhere north of $11 trillion. Many wars and worse upheavals have been instigated by politicians - and supported by a populace - in reaction to or anticipation of change of a few percentage points of GNP. All the more reason to dislike forms of society and culture that result in this sort of thing, if you ask me, but I digress.

Let's look at costs for a moment. I'm sure you're all familiar with the cost of death by aging. The value of an aged human life is around $2 million, and something like 2.5 million US citizens die annually, most from the conditions of old age - which amounts to $5 trillion dollars in resources destroyed by aging each and every year.

But what about the physical effects of aging upon those still alive? Suffering from age-related diseases or frailty imposes costs, both in resources consumed and in opportunities to create wealth missed. Here is a recent open access paper looking at the cost of osteoarthritis, for example:

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative joint disease characterized by joint pain and dysfunction caused by a progressive and irreversible loss of articular cartilage. OA is the most common form of arthritis, affecting nearly 27 million Americans or 12.1% of the adult population of the United States

...

A 1997 analysis of the economic costs of musculoskeletal disorders in 5 industrialized countries (Australia, Canada, France, United Kingdom, and United States), in which OA was the most common of these disorders, found a rising trend of costs that had, by then, reached between 1% and 2.5% of the gross national product of these countries.

As I noted above, politicians and the societies that support them have inflicted great geopolitical upheavals upon themselves and their neighbors in - often useless - efforts to avert costs of this magnitude in connection to metals, oil, and economic slumps. Yet you don't see this sort of fiery urgency and upheaval happen all that often in medicine. Medical progress and costs of present disease simply fail to ignite the same intensity of interest and support as war, commodity markets, and nationalism.

This is interesting, and something to be understood regardless of your personal position on whether government interventions are to be welcomed or feared. Is talking about cost in connection with aging actually useful for advocates of longevity science and healthy life extension? Does it garner support, or does it strangely fail where other cost-based arguments in other fields of human endeavor work well?

ResearchBlogging.orgBitton R (2009). The economic burden of osteoarthritis. The American journal of managed care, 15 (8 Suppl) PMID: 19817509

Comments

Ya, you are right the cost of aging is enormous, but the cost to whom ? -- To the aging individuals.

But the costs to the millions of aged are the profits of the few greedy capitalists. It's a zero sum game. The losses of the millions suffering humans are the gains of the few profiteers.

Besides, biomedical research requires huge investments and pay-off is uncertain and takes decades to realize.

If and when a cure for aging will be found all of those parasites who are profiting from the misery of the aged will lose their lucrative profits.

so, it's no wonder that the governments are in denial: they don't consider aging a disease and a cause of death. And the governments are supported by the greedy capitalists.
It's not a democracy but a dictatorship of the rich.

Posted by: nikki at October 22nd, 2009 4:23 PM

No, most of the cost of aging is a pure loss caused by diminished function, lower productivity, cognitive decline and the like. Aged people do spend more on medical care and this is a further cost to them, but only a small fraction of that cost can be imputed as "lucrative profits" in any sense.

Your own comment points out that biomedical research has distant and uncertain payoffs, which means that only a fraction of all financed research will ever yield any revenue.

Posted by: guest at October 23rd, 2009 1:29 PM

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