The best things in life are cheap – today.

The most effective health interventions are mostly cheap and generally available. Vaccinations, clean water, antibiotics – none are very expensive. The trend is for expensive treatments (usually aimed at illness fairly late in life) to also be relatively ineffective, in terms of benefits. There are some exceptions: drugs against HIV work but are fairly expensive (around $20-25 k a year), while there are a few cases where an expensive treatment actually cures a disease, like hepatitis C ($100 k). Those are the on-patent costs, not the marginal costs.

Mostly, death is ultimately caused by aging, and we can’t do much about it – an inevitable consequence of the evolutionary theory of senescence.

Money is not a panacea: The average lifespan of a billionaire is only about three years longer than average, and I’d bet that most of that is due to innate qualities of billionaires rather than special secret clinics and goat glands.

Then again, the evolutionary theory of senescence is not fundamental in the same sense that thermodynamics is. In principle you could stop aging, or reverse it – you can decrease entropy (locally) with enthalpy. Bowhead whales.

What if you could buy an extra year of youth for a million bucks (real cost). Clearly this country ( or any country) can’t afford that for everyone. Some people could: and I think it would stick in many people’s craw. Even worse if they do it by harvesting the pineal glands of children and using them to manufacture a waxy nodule that forfends age.

This is something like the days of old, pre-industrial times. Back then, the expensive, effective life-extender was food in a famine year.

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60 Responses to The best things in life are cheap – today.

  1. ralph says:

    what do you think of the studies looking at transfer of young plasma into old people? There’s a guy doing a study and charging people $8k to get transfusions of what is otherwise a throwaway product at blood banks.

  2. Colin McColinater says:

    I think blood transfusions from young people is actually a thing now. Vampires do exist.

  3. When you consider how 90-year-olds live in most industrial societies, and how miserably they are treated in ‘special facilities’, I’m surprised that anyone wants to live to be that old.

    In the so-called third world, struggling as vigorously as it can to join the parade of consumerism, industrialization and prosperity, old people are still treated decently. This is even the case in a rich country like Japan: I remember seeing many 80+ farmers in Kyushu out hoeing their sweet potato fields.

    In developing nations they customarily live with their blood relations as well, something rapidly becoming impractical as city folk are squeezed into tinier and more expensive housing.

    It’s no surprise to me that Boomers are notoriously blowing all their dough before they expire, considering how contemptuous and uncaring their Millennial offspring tend to be. Why leave anything to the ingrates, sitting around in a death watch waiting for the old folks to kick off and leave them the real estate?

    • NobodyExpectsThe... says:

      One could also ask how much of that Boomer´s dough, is just the product of keynesians perpeturally stealing wealth from the future by different types of money printing.

      A future, millenials will have to live in.

      • James Richard says:

        Why the generation after the millennials will vote Republican:

        • c23 says:

          “Generation Z is also more religious than preceding generations — attending organized weekly church services at about twice the rate of millennials, Generation Xers and baby boomers.”
          Sounds like gen z is largely the children of the religious. Selection for fecund religious people over seculars with their zero to one children each is something that was obviously happening but I didn’t realize it was already making that big of an impact. That would explain why gen z is more conservative (if that’s even true – I haven’t dug into this enough to make a judgement, and this article is poorly sourced).

          • dain says:

            I think the higher religiosity of Gen-Z is purely due to a greater percentage belonging to nonwhite demographics.

        • Karl Zimmerman says:

          Only 51.5% of post-millennials/Generation Z is non-Hispanic white. Thus that generation isn’t becoming Republican leaning unless the Republican Party backs away from white identitarian politics to some degree.

          • Maciano says:

            I’m not American, so I think I have some distance on this issue.

            Republicans were never “identitarian”, and they still aren’t as far as I can see. The Republicans don’t want to repeal unfair and self-defeating policies like affirmative action, for example.

            It’s the Democrats who went overboard in favoritism for all sorts of minorities, especially those who are over-represented in all the wrong stats. Consequently, White Americans started voting for a political party that didn’t do that (as much).

            You really can’t see that?

            • Ursiform says:

              Republican rhetoric is very off-putting to minorities. Many Republican politicians talk as if they don’t want minorities around them or in the party.

              • Toddy Cat says:

                Given the way that Republicans fawn over any Black or Hispanic person who turns Republican? Absurd. And if minorities find talk of limited government, constitutional rights, and a halfway sane immigration policy off-putting, that isn’t really the Republicans fault.

    • dain says:

      It’s no surprise to me that Boomers are notoriously blowing all their dough before they expire, considering how contemptuous and uncaring their Millennial offspring tend to be. Why leave anything to the ingrates, sitting around in a death watch waiting for the old folks to kick off and leave them the real estate?

      Likewise, I consider it our solemn duty as a generation to crash this vampiric ponzi scheme of a pension system that transfers wealth from young to old. Let’s be real, it’s never going to pay out for us, so we might as well make the thing implode as soon as possible.

  4. cthulhu says:

    Norman Spinrad’s “Bug Jack Barron” (late ’60s novel) takes on the “what if this is what it took to reverse aging” issue as well, and Spinrad is generally a good writer. Pierre Ouellette also took on the topic recently, mostly enjoyably, but not terribly convincingly with “The Forever Man” – Ouellette is not the writer that Spinrad is though.

  5. j says:

    What? “…aging (is) …an inevitable consequence of the evolutionary theory of senescence…”

    Aging is consequence of senescence (and not the theory of it).

    Or is senescence consequence of aging?

    Lately it is getting more difficult to think clearly.

    • Anonymous says:

      Perhaps evolutionary theories are not as reliable as one would hope, and thus it’s worth highlighting that our cause->effect connection is in this case predicated on an evolutionary theory.

    • There are non-evolutionary theories of aging. If you admit the possible existence of non-evolutionary theories of anything. Anything biological.

  6. Usually, when Greg says something, one has to dig deeper. Yes “aging [is] an inevitable consequence of the evolutionary theory of senescence” is a jarring statement at first sight. It would be understandable to respond “it is a consequence of ageing, and to hell with the theory”. However, if you use the jarring statement to do further reading, you will find that some organisms do not appear to age, not over a 50 year time span anyway. They are more fertile and give birth to better offspring as they don’t age with the passage of years. “the observations clearly suggest some species may not age, which is in contradiction with the evolutionary theory of aging.” It is turtles, turtles, turtles, all the way down. Bowhead whales can do 200 years on the basis of 3 alleles. Curious, what one finds out.

    • But sometimes there’s no there there. Senescence is biological aging. You wouldn’t apply the word to the lifetime of a physical theory. Or a rock. Or a software code base. Well, you wouldn’t. I might start to.

    • gcochran9 says:

      “some species may not age,”
      If there is no distinction between germ line and soma, sure. But that does not contradict the theory.

  7. MawBTS says:

    What if you could buy an extra year of youth for a million bucks (real cost). Clearly this country ( or any country) can’t afford that for everyone. Some people could: and I think it would stick in many people’s craw.

    There is a podcast where PZ Meyers says he does not like the idea of immortality because it means the Koch brothers will live forever.

  8. rodney L and Janell K Watson says:

    What if you could buy a few extra years of healthy living and not spend much.
    Some scientists are proposing a clinical trial to start proving that treating aging might well be better than treating specific diseases — perhaps solve the health care cost issue at the same time.
    See: “Metformin as a Tool to Target Aging” or “Forget the Blood of Teens, This Pill Promises to Extend Life for a Nickel a Pop.” or “Will Metformin Become the First Anti-Aging Drug?”
    My doctor was happy to let me take Metformin (I’m not diabetic). My goal is to live Healthy longer, not just live longer. 51% reduction in cognitive disorders got my attention!

  9. dearieme says:

    “What if you could buy an extra year of youth for a million bucks (real cost)”: what if you could make your wife twenty years younger for ten thousand bucks?

  10. Ivan says:

    We age to not take away resources for our offspring a few generations away.
    What is going on with these whales, do they have no competition with their offspring? Do they not benefit from faster generation cycles? Are they that well adapted to their environment? Is the environment unchanging?

  11. AllenM says:

    Only the geriatric should worry about how to live longer, and the scene in Prometheus was telling- an old man with the ability to sleep until a total rebuild was possible was not doing that, and was instead wandering the universe looking for his creators.

    Ensuring the survival of the progeny should be the goal at this point, as this world is about to watch the largest migrations of humanity in history. Driven by huge population growth, Africa will now begin an outward migration that will not stop until the root causes decline. Either they succeed in urbanizing and slowing their population growth and increasing economic output, or Malthus wins.

    Further, I would suggest the Dutch allow their colonial remnant from South Africa preferred entry now. There is no point in remaining in a hostile country that will shortly begin unending conflict over dwindling resources.

    Other countries are desperately trying to keep their demographic disasters in check- Egypt comes straight to mind- nothing but food imports are keeping lid on a massive number of people crammed into a very small area- in short, Egypt should move the population out of the river bottom, and plant the irrigable lands to ensure survival of what might remain.

    And all of this population of surplus young people will lead to a tremendous impulse towards warfare…..just look at the youngest populations on the planet- almost all in Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America….

    In short, the end of the cold war has now brought on the naked need of the modern world for resources, and the massive amount of people still living under $10 per day.

    And the inability of their governments to do more than attempt to ride the waves of humanity.

    Massive population growth in the third world over the last fifty years is going to change, and yet nobody wants to make an obvious assumption that the hungry will begin to walk north. And the crisis will really begin.

    Camp of Saints is nothing compared to how barbaric Israel will be considered in stopping 10 million starving Egyptians- and Gaza will be the ultimate fermenting pond of humanity.

    The disease vectors will also be devastating. Gaza without food importation will begin to starve in a matter of days- and then what? They will begin walking- either into Israel or into the Sinai desert.

    Old Herb Stein said it best- “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop,”

    • James Richard says:

      Gaza can easily feed itself and has historically been a large net exporter of agricultural commodities. If Israel completely lifts the 2007 blockade of Gaza its farming sector will boom especially its formerly robust hard cash strawberry production to all of Europe which the Israelis all but eliminated.

      • gcochran9 says:

        80% of Gaza’s population depends on international food aid. If you think that it’s possible to feed almost two million people off of 363 square kilometers of crappy land, think again.

        • AllenM says:

          In looking further, the insanity of the Middle East is beyond belief- even their internal commentary shows the scale of the demographic disaster- current population of Egypt is now over 91 million, and food insecurity is entirely insane: The government policy has been entirely insane, with crazy subsidies and import substitutions. The really funny part is the ag professor is advocating fattening up animals to grow larger using even more imported food. Now, contemplate a growth rate of over 20 million net people every ten years!!!

          Reading this, and thinking that this will have a good outcome in as little as 10 years is crazy. The ability to field extremely large armies and send them out into the world will generate instability in all countries within range of countries that have exploded.

          In short, nobody is thinking about the future in terms of how many people exist outside of the first world. Now, why is China grabbing the shallow areas of the South China Sea? Everybody is thinking about shipping, and the CCP is thinking about aquaculture to feed and provide even more seafood for their population, since the strip mining phase of world fishing is coming to an end.

          Meanwhile, the cold war lens used by our analysts and deep thinkers further distorts our reactions to naked survival plays.

        • James Richard says:

          All the more reason then to totally lift the blockade in order to restore the economy.

    • MawBTS says:

      Interesting post.

      If population growth is an S curve (it looks like it) there will be 11 billion people on the planet within a century. An intelligent, stable civilisation could support that many (I assume technological advances will continue to lower the energy cost of producing food and other resources). Unfortunately, most of the population increase is not happening in intelligent, well-ordered places. There’s going to be some ugly scenes happening in the third world in the coming decades.

      In a world with only two billion people, the Holodomor killed ten million. Imagine that type of thing scaled up by 500%. And unfortunately, when nations fall, they don’t fall like buildings – collapsing safely into their own footprint. They fall like trees – taking down the countries next to them.

  12. Bob says:

    What about baldness? Is that something that could be cured in the near future?

  13. Greying Wanderer says:


    vitamin K2 clears the calcium out of your arteries) and puts it in the bone where it belongs

  14. Anonymous says:

    Billionaires are almost all over 40, so have made it that far in life. That alone might explain the life expectancy increase, no mortality before adulthood.

    • Consider these mortality tables:

      They give an average male lifespan of 76.28. Imagine that a billion dollars is handed out to a random group of 40-year-old men, and it has no subsequent impact on their lives. They’d live to 78.53 years old. So that would explain 2.25 years of extra life. If you hand out the billion at 50, the lifespan jumps to 79.58 — 3.38 years of life extension.

      Since I have no data on when the average billionaire enters the category, I really can’t say whether being a billionaire is associated with a slightly higher or lower life expectancy.

  15. jamienyc says:

    We actually know quite a lot about aging, and some strategies have been formulated about how to combat it. The practical problem is that people do not identify with their future selves (see, for example, nonsense on stilts: “Why I hope to die at 75”), so there’s not enough pressure on the government to do something about aging. Hell, I’m 53, and I can’t imagine I’ll be 70 one day (let alone 80 etc.). But, I override that gut feeling (that I’ll always be the same age I’m now) and I donate to You could do the same!

    • gcochran9 says:

      ” some strategies have been formulated about how to combat it” – like what? I have no doubt that such strategies are possible, but I don’t know of any that currently exist and are known to work.

      • j says:

        Fasting effectively retards aging. Unfortunately, only with armed guards can one persevere in a low calorie regime.

      • magusjanus says:

        SENS seems a reasonable high level “this is what likely needs to be done to solve the problem” approach.

        Some of it is sci-fi at moment, but then again, so was space travel at one point until people go to work on it. At the end of the day, it’s an engineering issue. Likely a very very complex one (after all, it’s human body we’re talking about), but no reason necessarily why it has to be impossible.

        I do think we throw too little money at it relative to how much is thrown at palliative issues.

        • benespen says:

          I don’t think this is an engineering issue. Not yet. Looking over this list, I don’t see any actual technologies, I see a wish list of potential technologies that are all missing key elements. This list might suggest vectors of further research, but no one is doing these things right now because no one knows how.

          • jamienyc says:

            Senescent cell removal drugs are already in trial phase. They have successfully moved four mitochondrial genes to the nucleus. Etc. See, for example here:

            • benespen says:

              I looked, and I wasn’t impressed. This all strikes me as so much vaporware. The difference between the studies on your page, and the claims made by SENS advocates are yuge. For example, the most recent news article references a phase II trial on Aducanumab for the removal of amyloid plaques. That would be cool, if it replicated in phase III, I wish them luck.

              But their own study’s best result was that cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s patients was slowed. Granted, even if you completely cured Alzheimer’s, you should still find cognitive decline, because the patients are old, and that is what happens. This is not a spectacular result, and it is really just more whack-a-mole, because even if you fix someone’s amyloid plaques, there are a hundred other things making your body break down as you get old. SENS claims to fix it all, and doesn’t deliver.

              • Magusjjanus says:

                By engineering problem I mean at least it’s the right way to approach it. You specify the problem to be solved and tackle it. You’re right that we have little idea how to actually accomplish a lot of the goals SENS sets out but to me the framework is valuable.

                And yes you’d still age even if you completely cured Alzheimer’s but that’s the very point of SENS, to understand what “Aging” means as in what’s the actual damage that’s happening that needs to be prevented.

                It could be the case that after fixing the known issues mor people up, but at least fixing the known issues is something and likely would buy us a lot of time and quality of life.

              • Magusjjanus says:

                Rather, not prevented but fixed.

      • Greying Wanderer says:

        fasting and/or weight training stimulates growth hormone (or so the internet tells me)

        and growth hormone repairs stuff (or so i’m told by the internet)

        so… intermittent fasting + weight training + right diet (more fat, less sugar)

        whether they work for anti-aging or not i don’t know yet but they’ve certainly cleared up lots of niggling aches and pains on me and various older relatives

  16. benespen says:

    I was thinking about this same subject recently. I designed a better mousetrap version of a medical device to treat aneurysms, a common killer in first-world populations over 55. It works great, just about everyone you treat is cured, and the rate of complications is reasonably low. It costs around 20k USD all told. However, if you look at the all-cause mortality data, about half of the patients so treated are dead within 5 years of unrelated causes.

    This is because they are old, and sick, and if it isn’t one thing it’s another. In a sense, the specific thing being fixed isn’t really the problem. Being old and sick is the problem, and aneurysms seem like a symptom of that. In the US, if you are male and make it to 75, the incidence rate of this specific thing is 12.5%. All of the other crappy things that happen to people at that age, that we in this business euphemistically refer to as co-morbidities, are hard to fix all at once. You pick the worst one and start there, but it ends up being much like a game of whack-a-mole.

    Everyone senses that finding something more fundamental would be better [and lucrative], but so far nothing has really panned out, so we keep doing what we know how to do.

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