Economists in Favor of Extending the Healthy Human Lifespan

A recent survey on radical life extension reinforced a point that regular readers here know all too well: that most people are not all that interested in living longer, and their vision really doesn't extend to a future that looks all that much different from the present. It is a puzzle to watch generations live through decades of constant, dynamic change and technological progress, and yet think that twenty years ahead will look just like today. It is fortunate that we don't have to persuade more than a sizable minority to be able to raise sufficient funds for optimal progress towards rejuvenation therapies, as there's still a way to go to achieve even that end.

It is perfectly possible to find populations that are generally supportive of work on human rejuvenation and lengthening the healthy human life span, however. The transhumanist community is the obvious example, given that they put in much of the effort to launch the present generation of advocacy and rejuvenation research. But also you'll find a lot of support for longer lives through medical science in the engineering and software development fields: creating greater human longevity is an engineering problem, after all. It seems that the subset of economists who blog regularly are another such group, judging from this material:

Life Extension: Economists vs. the Public

Earlier this year, Pew surveyed Americans' beliefs about life extension. I was appalled by their nihilistic responses. Americans' awful answers made me wonder: Are economists any better? Tim Kane's latest survey of leading econ bloggers (PDF) has some answers.

As you can see, a supermajority of economists accepts the truism that longer, healthier lives are "a good thing for society." True, 10% of economists appear to be fans of death and misery. But by and large, ours is a life-affirming profession.

As usual, my fellow economists aren't perfect. How could any economically literate person deny that the "economy would be more productive"? The hypothetical specifically states that we don't just keep people alive longer; we actually "slow the aging process." Under what scenarios does the implied fall in the dependency ratio fail to raise living standards? I can think of a few, but none are plausible.

As usual, economists have much to learn. Yet compared to the U.S. public, economists once again prove themselves to be an island of common sense in a sea of misanthropic folly. I don't expect many of us will live to 120. But if will obviously be a glorious thing if we do. If I'm still alive in 2091, party at my house. Hope to see each and every one of you there, fit as fiddles!

The slow progress in adult life expectancy that has been the state of affairs for a lifetime is not a stable trend, not something that can be counted on to remain slow in the future. We are now entering a new period of research and development in the medical sciences, one very different from the immediate past. Prior to the present time, there was no initiative to extend life by addressing aging - all life extension was an incidental side-effect of the deployment of incrementally better medical technology. There will be an enormous difference in results between healthy life extension as an accident and healthy life extension as a deliberate outcome of research programs specifically designed with that goal in mind. This is the age of opportunity, an era in which enormous gains in human life span and rejuvenation of the old are there to be seized. Medicine over the next few decades will be anything but business as usual.


Bryan Caplan is not someone I'd take much advice from.

Posted by: Louis at September 17th, 2013 7:09 AM

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