Arnold Kling  

Would Ageless People be Libertarian?

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The point is raised by a commenter on Futurepundit.


curing aging will not make us immortal in the true sense of the word. We can still die due to accidents, homicide, and suicide. The word immortality is not appropriate. I propose the word "post-mortal" as description of someone who has been cured of aging, but can still die of other causes. A society comprised of such people, whose institutions have evolved to reflect the lives of such people, would be called a "post-mortal" society.

It has always been my contention that a post-mortal society will be more libertarian than the one we have today. It has also been my contention that post-mortality is essential for libertarianism. Libertarianism and dependency are mutually exclusive.


This might make for an interesting seminar discussion topic. If aging were curable, would people feel less inclined to expand government?

These days, I tend to think of the issue of the size of government as essentially a power struggle between capitalists and anti-capitalist intellectuals. I don't see how a cure for aging resolves this conflict.

UPDATE: Nick Schulz reminds me of Charles N.W. Keckler's essay on the topic. He writes,


Francis Fukuyama opined that "political, social, and intellectual change will occur much more slowly in societies with substantially longer average life spans."

If an ageless 150-year-old behaves like an old person, then he or she will have a goal of stability. That might mean a very non-libertarian attitude. But I am not sure that ageless people will have attitudes that are elderly or not.

UPDATE: I meant to also link to this post, which points out that economists tend to be more pro-immortality than other folks.


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CATEGORIES: Political Economy




COMMENTS (10 to date)
Neal Hockley writes:

It is also possible that post-mortals would opt for more regulation (and therefore more intrusive government). If a post-mortal dies in an accident, he loses an infinity of life. If a mortal (even a young one) dies in an accident, he loses at most a century of life - he knows he would have died eventually anyway. Post-mortals may become extremly risk averse, and wish to be "wrapped in cotton wool" in a "nanny state", to use two

Cyrus writes:

Private philanthropy is a central part of the "social" side of liberteraianism. Yet the argument for philanthropy, that one can't take it with them, needs to be seriously re-phrased in the post-mortal age.

I am curious whether the first generation of post-mortals will be able to successfully tie up capital and rent-seek such that the divide between haves and have-nots is between them, and everyone born after them.

mobile writes:

[Comment deleted for repeatedly providing false email address. To restore this comment and your posting privileges, email the webmaster at econlib.org--Econlib Editor]

"Clinical Immortality" we used to call it, back in the day.

Phil writes:

Post-mortal society will have a huge, huge inquality of personal wealth. A one-time $1000 investment $1,000 by a 25-year-old becomes $1.5 million by the time he's 175 (assuming 5% after inflation). If you manage to save $100,000 by the time you're 50, you'll have $150 million by age 200.

Given the wide range of people's propensities to save, the wealth gap between 175-year-olds, even those with equal incomes over their lives, will be very large. And the gap between the old and young will be absolutely enormous.

(Even if the post-mortal demand for savings drives down interest rates, that will probably be true.)

So I see more demands for bigger government as the less-wealthy demand some of those billions saved up by the oldsters.

Phil writes:

"Billions" in my last sentence should probably read "Quadrillions" or "Quintillions." I'm too lazy to do the actual arithmetic ...

Cyrus writes:

Also, today, death is something that while tragic, is expected to happen to everyone. If death by any cause comes to be viewed as, say, death by starvation is viewed today, won't there be a huge demand for interventions to prevent others' deaths, the attitude being, Sure, they may have failed to adequately prepare for that contingency, but do they really deserve to die for it?

Matt writes:

When ageless, outlook tends to the maximum (30 years?) for a large proportion.

Judgements, therefore, will be made over long cycles. This forces planning to a zero based accounting, liabilities and assets alligned in phase.

Result? Bubbles and political cycles are reduced, bank inflation cycles are hedged, long term costs are realized as today's liabilities, and catastrophic reserves set aside.

But, more importantly, we would all expect more frequent updates on our large economic institutions so information is spead quickly from top to bottom.

Lord writes:

Would they be fertile or infertile? Would they continue to have children or decide they really didn't need any? Society may grind to a halt with an increasing number of financial independent and an ever smaller number of workers as more and more tasks are automated away.

Matt (#2) writes:

I have to go with the Fukuyama position- how many people ever significantly change their political outlook after around age 40? Do you think this would really change much if people are kept more or less in a state of permanent 55-year-old-ness (or 40-year-oldness)? My grandparents are irrationally attached to Social Security, despite the fact that they've done well enough that the mandatory after-70 withdrawal on grandpa's IRA is higher than what he would otherwise pull out. The SSA will never get any meaningful reform as long as people like my grandparents continue to vote.

You can argue that keeping accumulated wisdom in the electorate for another 100 years will by and large improve policies, but I sure don't see how it will do anything but slow the rate of change. It will keep each generation's political prejudices in the electorate forever.

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