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Beyond Retirement: A New Social Compact for the Age of Longevity

 

Humanity stands on the brink of the Age of Longevity. Advances in science hold the promise of extending the healthy lifespan beyond the roughly 120 years presently accepted as the “natural” limit’, achieving radical life extension (“RLE”)[1]. In considering this breakthrough, two questions often arise in popular discourse: If people live indefinitely, how will society support so many retirees? And won’t longevity treatments be only for the wealthy? The answers require a new social compact for a new age.

retirement-after-the-longiavity

Current retirement systems work reasonably well in an age of finite, reasonably predictable lifespan and a generally predictable process of decline toward an inevitable death.  “Work hard, and contribute to society” we are told, “and in your old age, society will support you for as long as you live, so you will never have to work again.”  “Social security”, as it is called in the many countries, works where the retirement age is set high enough that most who enjoy benefits will not do so for very long.  It is unsustainable  where the healthy human lifespan is indefinite.

Eliminating retirement is a difficult proposition to sell. People who have paid into the system expect, with justification, to benefit from it.  But the system works  only if participants age and die. RLE enhancement can be used to change this system.

Under a new social compact, anyone wanting to receive RLE enhancement would have to relinquish all claim to retirement at society’s expense. The old social compact, that society will support you in old age for as long as you live, would be replaced by a new one: If you want to live indefinitely, don’t expect society to support you if you don’t want to work.

This new social compact would allow countries with socialized medicine to provide RLE enhancement, presumably costly at first, to any individual. What the state spends on RLE would be offset by savings on retirement. Recipients of RLE enhancement would enjoy indefinite healthy life in exchange for indefinite productivity. There would be no promise of retirement at society’s expense simply because you had lived a long time. To receive RLE enhancement, you would agree not to deplete society’s resources, and, implicitly, you would agree to enhance them.

The compact would require RLE-enhanced individuals to support themselves, but not, necessarily, to work. Anyone wealthy enough could choose to retire, provided their wealth had reached the critical mass of indefinite replenishment. So of course, the wealthy might receive RLE enhancement before the rest of society. As Ray Kurzweil observed, the wealthy always get the best technology first. Usually before it’s been perfected. Does anyone recall the first cell phones?

But under the new social compact, society would have a strong incentive to provide RLE enhancement to all as a way to reduce its expenditures. In the United States, Social Security is the largest single item in the federal government budget.[2] RLE enhancement could substantially reduce that expenditure. Providing RLE enhancement at society’s expense would result in fewer payouts for retirement benefits, and could even “save” Social Security for those who were unwilling to take advantage of a better way.

The system, of course, would provide medical care and disability payments for those who fell ill or were injured.  Society should not abandon its members when they are vulnerable. To eliminate the problem of boredom and stagnation, we might provide a sabbatical every so often at public expense to allow people to learn, to grow, to travel and to explore new options. But the basic premise would stand. To receive RLE enhancement you would commit, indefinitely, to contribute to society, to help it grow, and to provide more to the system than you take from it.

The new social compact would not supplant the old one. Anyone who wished to do so could maintain the status quo; they would age, decline and die in the traditional manner, and take advantage of the retirement system established for them. Those who chose RLE enhancement would forego this plan, living indefinitely, and indefinitely contributing their skill, knowledge, expertise and labor to society.

[1] We use the term Radical Life Extension, or RLE, instead of alternate terms such as Radical Healthspan Extension, on the assumption that anyone wishing to live indefinitely will wish to do so in good health.

[2] See, https://www.ssa.gov/history/percent.html