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Immortality Tax

Buy immortality: agree to pay 30% extra income tax to medical research. If enough people sign up, the tax kicks in and we all live forever.
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In a sufficiently large group, the per-person cost of curing EVERY DISEASE becomes affordable. For example, in a group of one billion people, a drug that costs one billion dollars to discover (like AIDS-stopping antiretroviral drugs) has a per- person cost of one dollar.

Now, specifically, some data, to find out how big of a group is needed:
1. Your life expectancy increases by about two months every year due to better medicine, but you get a year older, for a net aging of 10/12th the aging you'd experience without science. [link 1]
2. You currently give roughly 2.7% of your income to science. [link 2]
3. More science => better medicines [link 3]

Assuming roughly linear returns to increased science investment, a tenfold increase in science spending, to 27% of US GDP per year, or about $4.3 trillion per year, would mean you would get enough new and better medicines that you would feel younger, not older, as time passes.

The idea: An "immortality tax". If you sign up, nothing happens until at least 300 million other people sign up. At that point, you start paying a 30% additional tax (halving your take-home pay-- ouch!). This tax goes to a fund that, at roughly $4.5 trillion per year, is about 10x the size of all other medical research funding sources combined. This fund then hires about two million PhD scientists to do research and clinical trials dedicated to curing aging-related diseases, and support staff for those scientist. This research level is sufficient to achieve actuarial escape velocity: in other words, there would be enough science happening that your neighborhood pharmacy/chemist will start selling a baldness cure that actually works in five years, a weight- loss pill that actually works in ten years, and a treatment for Alzheimer's in twenty years, all for less than you currently spend on medicines. As someone paying the immortality tax, you get to use medicines discovered by the megafund at cost when you go to the doctor, while other people pay a normal markup to stop them from freeloading from research discoveries they didn't support.

This idea is on the halfbakery because I don't know how to find and organize 300 million like-minded people.

sninctown, Aug 22 2011

Life Expectancy vs. Time http://www.google.c...=0.035&iconSize=0.5
World Bank data, via Google [sninctown, Aug 22 2011]

Wikipedia: Research Funding http://en.wikipedia...ki/Research_funding
2.7% of GDP goes to science [sninctown, Aug 22 2011]

Example: Retroviral drugs http://www.avert.org/generic.htm
They cost billions to discover, but less than a dollar a day for the drug itself. [sninctown, Aug 22 2011]

Telomeres http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telomere
Just one minor issue (among many) to consider, though. [8th of 7, Aug 22 2011]

Wikipedia: Public Good http://en.wikipedia...Assurance_contracts
this idea proposes an "assurance contract" for funding medical research (a public good) [sninctown, Aug 23 2011]

Tithonus http://en.wikipedia...iki/Tithonus_(poem)
[mouseposture, Aug 23 2011]

Seeking immortality http://www.youtube....YbNZyc&feature=fvst
Spoiler: you get turned to stone [jaksplat, Aug 24 2011]


       This would destroy your "civilisation".   

8th of 7, Aug 22 2011

       Given a choice between immortality and civilization, which do you expect us to choose?   

       [sninctown] You're implicitly treating the products of this research as a "public good," but it's not at all clear that they are.   

       (A public good, as maybe you know, is one which it is impossible to dole out to some people (who paid for it) while witholding it from others (free riders). It's generally (though not universally) agreed that public goods are, properly, provided by governments and paid for by taxation. Regarding goods that aren't public, on the other hand, there's much less agreement.)   

       In fact, immortality may be the opposite of a public good: by making sure *everybody* gets it, you actually make everybody *worse* off (which is [8th_of_7s] point). If you restrict it to a few wealthy people -- well, that may be unjust, but at least *some* people are better off.
mouseposture, Aug 22 2011

       ... i.e. the wealthy, and who cares what poor people think ... ?
8th of 7, Aug 22 2011

       Nobody at all, until they storm the Bastille.
mouseposture, Aug 22 2011

       That was the french; we definitely used the word "people", i.e sentient autochthons capable of comprehending the concepts of "soap and water", "fair play", "efficient foul-water drains", and "not being rolled flat by the Germans three times within a century and having to be rescued twice by the Anglo-Saxons from the pig's ear they've made of National Defence."
8th of 7, Aug 22 2011

       Wasn't just Les Grenouilles. The rest of Europe cared a *lot* after the storming of the Bastille. Including the English. You've heard of Edmund Burke, presumably.
mouseposture, Aug 23 2011

       //        This would destroy your "civilisation".    //   

       All your civilizations are belong to us.
Alterother, Aug 23 2011

       Unfortunately a linear relations between spending and science cannot be assumed. After a certain point the people who are most interested in science are already working in it and you'll get more and more people just in it for the money. and science has a _lot_ of ways to seem to be working without accomplishing much.   

       Edit: Also you'll get people who are interested in immortality but think they won't have enough of an income to pay 30%, or that they'll be able to dodge the 30%.
Voice, Aug 23 2011

       // science has a _lot_ of ways to seem to be working without accomplishing much //   

       Shhhhh ... keep it down .... someone might hear ...
8th of 7, Aug 23 2011

       [Marked-for-deletion] WIBNI.   

       Wouldn't it be nice if we spent more on medical research and got to live forever.   

       We already spend tons on medical research. There's a sufficient profit motive in immortality that an extra incentive is not necessary.
theircompetitor, Aug 23 2011

       // a sufficient profit motive in immortality //   

       That point bears closer analysis.   

       Pharmaceutical companies make their money by selling chemicals to sick people (Durrrrr......).   

       But they also make money by selling chemicals to people who are healthy and do not wish to become sick.   

       (Note: This differs from tobacco companies who make money by selling chemicals to people who are healthy but do wish to become sick).   

       It depends what form this "immortality" takes.   

       If it turns out to be a one-shot fix, like a vaccination, there may not be too much money in that and the inducement is to keep quiet and go on selling partially effective stuff to people who don't want to die.   

       If, however, "immortality" requires regular doses of an expensive and profitable compound, then it's a done deal.
8th of 7, Aug 23 2011

       //a drug that costs one billion dollars to discover [...] has a per-person cost of one dollar.//   

       I think that should read "per-person cost of one million dollars", on the assumption that one person out of every thousand is a lawyer.
lurch, Aug 23 2011

       I'm confused by the widely-held assumption that better medicine would destroy civilization. I'd argue civilization has gotten better as average lifespans have increased.   

       To clarify, under this plan, members would continue paying a normal first-world rate for healthcare ($2000-$4000/year), regardless of what medicines were discovered. In addition to this, the 30% income tax (~$12000/year) going to research would make the $2k-$4k go farther. I don't think there's any set point where "immortality" is discovered...I for one would want to become more and more healthy, strong, and beautiful.   

       I'm interested in the relationship between spending and useful research. My best guess is that the relationship between spending and output truly is linear because most scientists work alone or in small teams (there are no economies of scale for creative work).
sninctown, Aug 23 2011

       // I for one would want to become more and more healthy, strong, and beautiful //   

       We are sure you would, but your planet would most likely be a much better place if you, and all the others like you, were prepared to trade in a portion of the available improvements in health, strength and beauty for a proportionate increase in common sense, or failing that, intelligence ...
8th of 7, Aug 23 2011

       //you, and all the others like you//
There are others like me?! Where?? <small>are there 300 million of us?</small>

       //trade in a portion of the available improvements in health, strength and beauty for a proportionate increase in common sense, or failing that, intelligence//
I think I agree with you.
sninctown, Aug 23 2011

       // I think I agree with you //   

       Watch out, [sninc]. That way, only madness lies...
Alterother, Aug 24 2011

       I like the idea, but 30% is too high, it would never work. Hell, the poor people in this country won't stand for any increase in taxes at all, even on the wealthy people who are paying none.
DIYMatt, Aug 24 2011

       Oh, the poor are perfectly willing to take any increase in taxation so long as the rich call it closing loopholes... and it is not supported by democrats.   

       Back to the idea... there are too many assumptions for my comfort.   

       This idea assumes that the problem of death is one which can be solved by science.   

       I would point out, that this is not necessarily the case. Science has been remarkably ineffective at solving other similar problems, such as gravity, and taxes.   

       This idea assumes that death and aging are two aspects of a single problem. This also is not necessarily the case. I've seen retirement homes where over half the population feel so old and miserable that they wish they had died sooner.   

       Your idea also equates length of life with total quality of life, and assumes that advances in technology lead to a longer life. I would point out that while more advanced societies do tend to have longer life expectancies, they also have longer working hours. The average hunter-gatherer dies around 28, and works for two hours a day. The average american dies around 78, and spends eight hours a day at work, and gets off to spend another four hours commuting, picking up kids, cooking, repairing the home, etc.   

       It appears that we add about one hour to our average work day for every five years we add to our average lifespan. By that math, we will have a maximum average life span of 138 years old, and to get that much, we must discover the cure for sleep.   

       I suggest you develop a more modest idea. Try one which can work with only two assumptions.
ye_river_xiv, Aug 24 2011

       //I'd argue civilization has gotten better as average lifespans have increased.//

Yes, so either "improved civilisation caused people to live longer", or "people living longer has caused civilisation to improve", or "some other factor has caused both people to live longer and civilisation to improve", or "people living longer and civilisation improving are each caused by separate, independent things".
hippo, Aug 24 2011

       Hey [hippo], there's a PhD in there somewhere if you look hard.
8th of 7, Aug 24 2011

       It's OK, thanks - I've already got one.
hippo, Aug 24 2011

       Cure for sleep is the answer. What a waste, that sleep! There is a life extension of 30% sitting right there on the shelf, covered with blankets.
bungston, Aug 24 2011

       I find having to sleep very hard not to resent.   

       Thirty years wasted by the time you're ninety. From an evolutionary standpoint it seems like an awfully, (awe-fully) long time to have ones cheese in the wind.   

       "I'll take; Thing That Make You Go Hmmmm, for eight hundred Alex."   

       You've also made assumptions about the nature and the cause of the observed increase in life expectancy.   

       For instance, a life expectancy of 30 years, say, in some distant time or place, is sometimes mis-characterised as "you're likely to die when you're 30", but is more likely to mean "you're likely to die in infancy". This is easily seen in old graveyards; there are plenty who died in their 70s to 90s, and plenty who died in their first year, but not so many in between. Modern medicine has dramatically reduced infant mortality, but hasn't extended life all that much at the other end, except in saving people who would have otherwise died from particular diseases or traumas.   

       //Your life expectancy increases by about two months every year due to better medicine, but you get a year older, for a net aging of 10/12th the aging you'd experience without science.// may be a similarly misleading statement. If you are 30 now, you may have already "used up" much of your increased longevity (relative to earlier generations) in that you had a greater chance of reaching 30 than they did. Your chances of reaching 110 _from_ 30 may not have increased much.   

       In other words, we may (or may not) be all-round healthier and longer-lived than out forebears, but even if we are, that is not the main reason for the increased longevity figures.   

       To track the effect you are interested in, you will have to look at trends in the greatest age reached, and the death rates (per time) of people who reach extreme old age; e.g., is a 99 year old more likely to reach 100 now than a 99 year old in 1911? Raw longevity figures are quite misleading in this context.
spidermother, Jan 16 2012

       // is a 99 year old more likely to reach 100 now than a 99 year old in 1911? //   

       Clearly the answer to that is yes, because the 99 year old from 1911 would now be 200 years old, which is unusual in your species.   

       // Raw longevity figures are quite misleading in this context. //   

       Since "longevity figures" are statistics, and usually Government statistics at that, it is implicit in the definition that they are primarily intended to mislead.
8th of 7, Jan 16 2012

       There seems to be no published research about the relationship between science funding and output. Is it linear, logarithmic, or what?
sninctown, Jun 18 2013

       Interesting side note, and I can't produce a reference at this point, but someone figured out that if you took out all disease and age related causes of death, but not trauma, suicide, and murder, the average human lifespan would be around 800 years.
MechE, Jun 18 2013

       The problem there is that after 100 years, most humans are in a pretty sorry state, both physically and mentally. Spending a further 700 years as a dribbling, incontinent vegetable does not sound a very attractive option.   

       Along with your 800 year lifespan you need to add " ... with reasonable quality of life."   

       Jonathan Swift very presciently mentioned the problem in "Gulliver's Travels" - "On the island of Luggnagg, he encounters the struldbrugs, people who are immortal. They do not have the gift of eternal youth, but suffer the infirmities of old age and are considered legally dead at the age of eighty."
8th of 7, Apr 19 2020


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