Alex Zhavoronkov of the Biogerontology Research Foundation and the International Aging Research Portfolio (IARP) has written a popular science book that will be coming out next month. The topic is the defeat of aging, but the focus is on potential economic transformations, particularly those relating to unsustainable entitlements such as pensions, medicare, social security, and the like. These entitlements threaten the destruction of entire economies and societies by virtue of the fact that they cannot be continued indefinitely, and yet no group in society seems willing to do what needs to be done in order to avoid that result.
Historically, a continued failure to address national overspending has led to dire results: hyperinflation, extreme unemployment, civil unrest, and ironically, as economies collapse, a loss of funding for the same senior entitlement programs that created the crisis in the first place. Poor financial management was one of the main contributing factors behind the advent of Nazi Germany as well as the collapse of the USSR that put millions of its senior citizens into poverty. As Aldous Huxley warned, "That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach."
Will we learn from history? Fortunately, we may be bailed out by technology, which has advanced so rapidly in the past decade that a medical solution to these economic problems is now tantalizingly close. Through scientific means, we can dramatically enhance the health and youthfulness of the aging population over the next couple of decades.
This would redefine our current conception of 65 as the standard age of retirement. If tomorrow's 65-year-olds were as healthy as 55-year-olds today, seniors could work an extra ten years if they chose to do so. If millions of seniors continued to pay into the system while postponing their entrance into these senior entitlement programs by a decade or more, the problems of Social Security and Medicare could be pushed decades into the future. And the cycle would continue, as medical researchers would have more time to extend even further the health and vitality of seniors virtually eliminating the retirement age. As you will soon learn, the longevity breakthroughs we could see in the next 20 years could change the entire landscape of aging, including its social and economic implications.
Will we learn from history? The evidence to hand suggests that the answer is "no." The short term incentives for (a) those receiving entitlements and (b) the political elite who do well for themselves on the graft and corruption enabled by centralization of power combine to lead us all off the cliff in the end. The two sides even collaborate after a fashion in the system of voting for more entitlements. This, combined with an enormous military expenditure, is how all empires end - and the American empire-in-all-but-name will be no different.
I am skeptical that technological advances in medicine will do more than patch a small part of the overall problem. The problem is centralized, unaccountable power in the hands of those who make up the state. If it isn't social security that brings down the system in the end, at the point at which the elite run out of other people's money to steal, waste, and transfer to their allies, then it will be some other form of entitlement or abuse of the financial system.
The defeat of aging will of course be very welcome, and is a goal that should be pursued for what it can do to save lives and ameliorate suffering, not for its ability to let the corrupt upper crust continue being corrupt and in charge for a little longer. I am given to think that the technological advances that will do the most to help with the issues of power, entitlements, and economic destruction, are those involving space flight and cheap, reliable orbital access, however. Historically the only thing that has kept the depredations and corruptions of established states at least somewhat in check is the existence of an accessible frontier, a place to which large sections of the population can emigrate in order to escape a controlled, taxed, doomed economy. So very much of the malaise of the modern world is due, I think, to the lack of an effective frontier.