Arnold Kling  

Betting on Longevity

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The Financial Times reports,


While someone in the 1840s lived, on average, to 40, today's generation can expect to hit 80, "and for our grandchildren, it could be 160," says [pension economist David] Blake, stabbing a pale green corner of his fan chart.

The market goes on to talk about market instruments that might allow investors to speculate or hedge on forecasts of longevity. If such a market does develop, I will be taking a more optimistic view than Mr. Blake. I tell my high school students now that I think there is a good chance that they will be immortal. Thanks to Tyler Cowen for the pointer.


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COMMENTS (15 to date)
Tim Lundeen writes:

Or at least live indefinitely, with health and vigor and no "old age". And I agree with this projection, I tell my kids the same thing :-)

Ned writes:

I agree with Arnold's estimate. Linear extrapolations never work in the long run (life expectancy of 40 in 1840, 65 in 1940, 90 in 2040 etc.). In this case, once people start living to 160, what would they die of - boredom?

Hollywood_Freaks writes:

As a young accounting student who has a passion for economics, it always amazes me how often longevity is left out of the lesson. I remember reading Dr. Kurzweil in high school and being astonished how his predictions, if only somewhat true, would alter everything I've ever learned. Now that I've just begun grad school, I'm still disappointed that this possibility of immortality is never brought up in class, because even if it is a low probability, the effects of it are so gigantic that it must be discussed.

Matthew writes:

Wow.

How much has the maximum human lifespan increased in the past century? None. It's still around 130 years.

What cures are there for the host of conditions caused by ageing? None.

And you all are quite sure that ageing will banished in the next few decades. . .

Reminds me of the promise of AI "ten years out" for the past half-century.

Scott Carpenter writes:

Matthew, it's possible we're approaching the elbow of an exponential curve. I think people were skeptical of flight for a long time also, and probably derided it the same as some do the promise of AI today. I think Kurzweil's Singularity will happen, if our civilization doesn't implode first, either because of environmental catastrophe or panic in the face of terrorism.

Matthew Cromer writes:

Scott,

Birds, bats and insects fly.

Where are the immortal vertebrates? What is the "model" for human immortality?

Scott Carpenter writes:

DNA? Information? Machines that can replicate the structure of our brains and the information and processing contained in them. That is the beauty of this evolutionary process -- we aren't limited to what has come before.

Thomas in the backrow writes:

I just finished reading Laurence J. Kotlikoff's 'The Coming Generational Storm' (2004), I book I would highly recommend for any econ dweller musing on the fact of increased longevity in the tired Western democracies. In the book, Kotlikoff introduces the discipline of generational accounting, which at first struck me as very obvious but upon deeper reading had many implications that I had never thought of. Kotlikoff is very conservative in his economic assessment of increased longevity, seeing the liabilities, primarily government outlays and decreased overall value of pension savings. Another factor stressed by Kotlikoff that adds dimension to the article is that although we're living longer, we are also set for a demographic transformation of unprecedented consequence. After the Baby Boomers retire, the tax paying workforce in the Western world (including Japan) will shrink radically. Bills will come due. Economies will be stressed. It seems to me the question of paranormal longevity (via nanotechnology / biotechnology, general good health, whatever) presents a host of issues in the economic and ethical sphere. Besides hedging bets on longer lived people, I'd like to know what economists are thinking about these issues. Besides finding a way to make money on death/no death-rate speculation, are there any views and or voices out there offering theories or the application of economic theories with positive implications? Articles? Recommended reading? Links?

Buzzcut writes:

My favorite section of the Chicago Tribune is the obituaries. I started reading it because of the stories they told about peoples' lives. So many people have done so much extraordinary things, and their stories are told in the obituaries.

Lately, I've also been noting the ages at death. There's a lot of ninetees, a few over a hundred. If the age is less than 70, there is usually a good reason (cancer, usually).

Just curing cancer is going to drive a huge increase in longevity. Cancer treatments already have, but curing everyone will do more.

Not unexpectadly, it is usually the women who are in their ninetees or above.

Bill writes:

Talk about overconfidence and bad incentives!

There is little scientific evidence to suggest that we'll be immortal anytime soon. Telling kids that they will be, could seriously skew their plans for the future. Just imagine the disappointment. It's hard enough dealing with the fact that we'll all die someday. To give people false hope about such a thing is terrible.

Arnold, I never thought you'd say something so irresponsible to children! Stick to the truth; predictions should be left to prophets and sci-fi authors.

As for THE SINGULARITY, it makes for good sci-fi, but that's about it. It, too, will not happen soon, if at all. (BTW, this idea doesn't seem to be that big amongst physical scientists and engineers. I wonder why?)

Alex writes:

I've always heard that the most of the increase in a population's average lifespan is due to a decrease in infant mortality and childhood deaths as opposed to living longer at the end the average life.

Heather writes:

As people live longer, however, the rate of death due to accidents increase, meaning that it is unlikely that average lifespans would ever get to 150. If you look at the mortality rate for people in their 20s, which is almost exclusively accidental death, it's something like 1 in 200. This would preclude extraordinarily long life expectancies unless we are able to dramatically reduce accidental deaths.

liberty writes:

Kids already believe they are immortal, but telling them they are is still not a good idea.

Matt writes:

Human life expectancy has not been extended even 1 second. All medicine up to this point has simply allowed more people to reach their full potential.

Defeating aging has nothing to do with what has come before it. Any backward looking comparison is worthless. That doesn't mean it's not possible, but it's far different to predict the future than to continue along a trendline.

Kelly writes:

I agree that the human lifespan is increasing because it has been proven over the years. In the future, people will more than likely be living much longer lives than the people of today, which could change certain aspects or our economy. However, I think it is absurd to believe that humans will ever become immortal. I believe that the rate at which life expectancy increases will be less and less in the years to come, causing the life expectancy rate to eventually level off to some degree.

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