Longevity Brings Economic Benefits

A common theme in past posts is that increased human longevity goes hand in hand with increased wealth: there are many economic benefits to living longer in good health beyond the immediately obvious ones. This has been demonstrated over and again in the past few centuries as, one after another, regions of the world have moved from poor to rich, and populations from shorter-lived to longer-lived. This bears repeating, and frequently, as the very vocal Malthusian and environmentalist camps claim that exactly the opposite will happen in the future - the Malthusian vision is of poverty and collapse brought on by longevity. This is, of course, ridiculous and just as wrong now as it has been at any time since Malthus first put forward his ideas. The world simply doesn't work that way, as human ingenuity driven by the urge to profit continually produces new and greater resources in response to the need for them.

Nonetheless, with little regard for history, Malthusian adherents loudly oppose engineered human longevity - and their influence is grand and pervasive. When the average person on the street claims to be against longer lives and greater health, it is the hair-shirt Malthusian teachings of the environmentalist movement that inform that reaction: too many people, using too many resources, living too long, and not deserving any more of either. Yet the world does not work that way - there is no such thing as overpopulation, no such thing as limits on resources, and the arguments for more human death and suffering (and less striving for better medicine) are nothing less than evil. A banal and diffuse evil, with every person doing a little to build the monstrous whole, but still malign and terrible in its end result. Every day by which the development of rejuvenation biotechnology is slowed will cost at least 100,000 lives, and another day of suffering for tens of millions of people.

Thus the more people willing to take up the right side of this debate, the better. Here's a recent op-ed on economics and longevity:

There is little downside to the wonderful reality that human beings are now living longer than ever before. While many assume that society's economic burden radically increases with greater longevity, the reality is the opposite. Everyone is better off because of longer life expectancies.

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For instance, University of Chicago economists Kevin Murphy and Robert Topel have calculated that, for Americans, "gains in life expectancy over the century were worth over $1.2m per person to the current population." They also found that "from 1970 to 2000, gains in life expectancy added about $3.2 trillion per year to national wealth." These enormous numbers represent a spectacular accomplishment in terms of benefits. But aside from what life is valued at, it is also the case that real income grows with greater longevity.

Harvard economist David Bloom and Queen's University economist David Canning show that if there are "two countries that are identical in all respects, except that one has a 5 year advantage in life expectancy," then the "real income per capita in the healthier country will grow 0.3 - 0.5 per cent per year faster than in its less healthy counterpart." While these percentages might look small, they are actually quite significant, especially when one considers that between the years of 1965 to 1990, countries experienced an average per capita income growth of 2 per cent per year. When countries only have an average growth of 2 per cent, an advantage of 0.5 per cent is quite the boost.

You might note that across much of the past five decades Malthusians have been predicting near-term catastrophe year-in and year-out, a catastrophe that never emerged and could not have emerged in their terms. The present cries and dire predictions are more of the same - simply false, driven by fundamental misunderstandings about the way in human beings collaborate and respond to incentives, and the way in which new technology is developed to serve unmet needs.

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