Stratification by Biology

In the Cato Unbound discussion of Brink Lindsey's (excellent) book, Julian Sanchez writes:

On the economic front, since everyone seems to be focused on healthcare, it's not entirely clear to me which way technological progress in the medical sector is going to push. It may be that ever-rising costs make clear that public provision of cutting-edge care for everyone is unsustainable. But, paradoxically, medical innovation might also undermine the sense that we live in a "post-scarcity" economy, even in the colloquial sense. Suppose, for instance, that Ray Kurzweil is right that cascading and accelerating development will soon entail that buying a few more years of life with current state-of-the art tech allows people to survive until the next innovation, which will give them enough of a boost to reach the next horizon, and so on indefinitely. It might become possible to radically extend the human lifespan, but only at massive cost. Would we countenance a situation where the very wealthy enjoyed a century or more of middle-aged vigor while the rest of us were stooped and grey after a mere 80 or 90 years? Or would our conception of what constitutes an acceptable amount of "survival" expand to fill the available space? This may sound like sci-fi speculation, but again, if we consider the scale at which Lindsey's argument works, if it works, we need to consider the kind of changes we should anticipate by midcentury, not the next midterms.



I'm currently involved in finishing up what aspires to be a very sober and serious book about the Republican Party and class politics, and sober and serious books don't, by definition, traffic in Kurzweil-style theories about the coming availability of radical life extension. Nonetheless, I have a strong suspicion that something like what Julian summons up - some form of radical transhumanish innovation that's available to the rich long before it trickles down to the middle-class and the poor - is going to radically change the landscape of Western politics at some point over the next century or three.

I, of course, will immediately seek a leadership position in the Butlerian Jihad when that moment arrives - which again, isn't really something that you can say in a sober and serious book about public policy. That's why they invented blogs, I guess.

Update: Just to be clear - yes, as Matt says, the Butlerian Jihad was directed against thinking machines, not transhuman genetic engineering projects. But I think the spirit of the Butlerian Jihad would apply equally well to both. Clearly, this makes me a theological liberal.