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The year is 2019. Someone has taken the most cutting-edge AI technologies to create a machine. It was tasked with studying the DNA humans, and making them indestructible. A virus was created that would make this so. It gradually infects all humans, over the course of ~20 years.

The "change log": bulletproof skin, bones like carbon fiber, brains that can take harder trauma, self annealing immune systems (impossible to get sick, EVER), digestive systems that do not allow for processing of fat beyond a threshold, higher tolerances to heat and cold, improved hearing and eyesight, etc.

The only exception to these rules is in the last year of life, in which the heart and lungs slowly lose capacity until they simply stop. In short, healthcare is no longer necessary. At all. 1/5 of the US economy. Up in smoke.

How could any (US or otherwise) economy recover from this?

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    $\begingroup$ Redundancy of entire industries has happened many, many times. We no longer commonly use instamatic film nor Sperry mainframes nor gas lighting nor stagecoaches nor buggy-whips nor arbalests nor chamberpots nor togas, etc. What's the difference here that you care about? GDP? Employment? Tax Revenues? The timeframe for such disruption? As written, this question seems very, very broad. $\endgroup$ – user535733 Feb 5 '18 at 3:26
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    $\begingroup$ You're kind of assuming here that because people and the government aren't spending their money on health care or health insurance, they'll just burn it or something. This is not the case. They'll spend it on something else that they couldn't afford because they needed their health, so the healthcare industry will never recover, to be sure, but the economy as a whole shouldn't suffer. $\endgroup$ – colmde Feb 5 '18 at 9:00
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    $\begingroup$ Heart and lungs slowly loose capacity? Oh man, that's a horrible way to die... You can expect a big euthanasia industry to spring up immediately. Also the World War 3 for unleashing this virus on humanity. Lots of people would get VERY angry for this. $\endgroup$ – Maciej Feb 5 '18 at 9:15
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    $\begingroup$ The extinction of humanity is more of an issue. Seems like the bulletproof skin would probably make childbirth impossible. $\endgroup$ – Mike Scott Feb 5 '18 at 9:56
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    $\begingroup$ "digestive systems that do not allow for processing of fat beyond a threshold" -- fat is just an energy source, it doesn't make you fat. Consuming large amounts of energy but not using them is what makes you fat. What you want is a digestive (or other) system that doesn't hoard loads of this stored energy and instead expels it after a certain time period. $\endgroup$ – Pyritie Feb 5 '18 at 10:29

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The economy would boom! Without the need to deal with ordinary malaises all sectors would abruptly be able to reduce spending on day to day healthcare. No more losses to sick days, no more expensive medicine for chronic conditions! No more cancer to take our loved ones too soon!

That said there's still always going to be call for doctors, they just get to palm off the simple stuff to nanobots. You're going to get a dip in the transitional period but it's a truism that there's never enough doctors today so the drop probably won't be too high. Certainly there will be shifts. Some sectors of healthcare will shrink, like insurance, but 20 years is a decent chunk of a career; plenty of time to readjust to the exciting new world. Maybe some retire early, proud to see the impossible day they were finally able to say the job was done.

But there will always be work to be done. You can't genetically engineer away a car crash, or a table saw. You can't engineer away a terrible industrial accident. Efforts will shift towards emergency care, to saving that many more victims who now get to live because the paramedics don't have to worry about as many of the victims.

The new dream in research is now true immortality, to solve that last year of life and turn it into an eternity. Turn the last year into two years. Cure the disease that crops up at 200. Invent a nanobot that saves someone five minutes dead. Ten minutes. A day. Brain backups. Meet your great great great grandkids. Wouldn't you pay for that?

The important bit here is that medicine as a discipline doesn't really shrink so much as find loftier mountains to climb. In the past some attrition in the family was ordinary, today we don't accept children dying at all. In the future with all these advances we'll just raise our standards - if you can shrug off a car crash we'll work on how to save you from a run in with an exploding fuel tanker.

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    $\begingroup$ Beautifully put. Give me everything I want and I'll redefine what I want if for no better reason then I want something to complain about. $\endgroup$ – candied_orange Feb 5 '18 at 8:07
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    $\begingroup$ Not to mention, humans are quite effective at coming up with new and exciting ways to hurt themselves, and I doubt any level of genetic engineering can keep up with that. The instant bulletproof skin becomes the norm, you know the 2019 equivalent of Youtube is going to have a run on videos of people finding more and more abusive ways to try it out, just because. Extreme sports in general will just fly off the charts when invulnerability renders our current offerings far too tame to pump any adrenaline. $\endgroup$ – goldPseudo Feb 5 '18 at 9:06
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    $\begingroup$ In addition, the out-of-work medical workers are already self-selected top-tier economic performers -- they are in the part of the workforce least likely to be incapable of finding and adapting to new work. So you haven't just reduced a major source of economic and social overhead, you have also inflated the workforce with extremely high IQ, highly disagreeable, highly conscientious people. This alone is a recipe for economic success. $\endgroup$ – zxq9 Feb 6 '18 at 13:37
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    $\begingroup$ I would add, imagine what Einstine could have done with 200 years, of life. Imagine anyone in a specialized field gifted with 120 more years to learn that field. $\endgroup$ – ArtisticPhoenix Feb 6 '18 at 17:14
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    $\begingroup$ @ArtisticPhoenix Einstein is an interesting example. He was definitely in the least productive period in his life after the second world war. Same with Stephen Hawking. People have their 15 minutes of fame, and then decline, as they are replaced by fresh minds equally as brilliant, that build on their contributions. I suppose you might say 'What if Newton had lived 300 years? Would Einstein have eclipsed him?' $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Feb 6 '18 at 18:29
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The Broken Window Fallacy. The economy will BOOM

Any turnaround and/or labour that goes to just keeping things and people whole and alive is a burden on the economy.

No, the medical industry is not beneficial to the economy. It is a necessary evil and a net cost. The assumption that industry used for building and maintenance of basic utilities, infrastructure and services are good for the economy is a fallacy, described and refuted in The Parable of the Broken Window. And yes, I know that some still cling to the idea of Trickle Down Economics... but it simply does not work that way.

Perfect health would not only eliminate the need of most hospitals and medical industry and thus eliminate this opportunity cost, but it would also increase the labour force by ridding employers of all short- and long-term sick leave, and early retirement due to health problems.

It would also mean that people could work longer before they go into normal retirement.

The economy would soar from this, not take a downturn.

In the long run, what you have also done is free up scores of highly qualified people that can now turn their attention to pressing issues such as environmental threats, climate change, clean energy production, and the advancement of science and exploration.

And when this virus then spreads to the rest of the world, the global economy will boom similarly.

Refuting your original claim

If what you claimed was true that the economy and the industry benefited from ill health, then why would government and industry ever allow vitamins and vaccines? You may think nothing special on something as mundane as Vitamin C... but without it, you would be subject to the horrible disease known as scurvy, an illness that — I jest not — makes you start decomposing while still alive.

Vaccines, even more so. Why would government and medical industry destroy a market opportunity by simply giving every child a jab and a couple of drops worth no more than a few cents in sales?

Answer: because everyone benefits more from people being healthy and in no need of medical care

...oh, and because no-one is the kind of monster that wants to see their fellows in poor health just to make a cheap buck.

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Feb 9 '18 at 18:43
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It'll mostly transition to mental health

Not all of medical care is covered by sickness, accident and emergency. There are other sectors still required. The three primary remaining services that come to mind are

  • Birth control and Maternity care
  • Mental health

Merely preventing disease and injury will not prevent you from needing these services.

You've also left

  • End of life care

Though you've shorted the period of time for which it is necessary, it is still necessary.

It will also still be possible for people to have accidents requiring medical care. It'll take a little while for people to learn how hard they can push these new upgraded bodies, but push them they will and they will eventually work out how to damage them. After all, what is the adrenaline rush without risk?

Ultimately the economy will boom as others have said, healthcare is a lead weight on the economy, sucking up money that could be spent on development rather than just maintenance.

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  • $\begingroup$ Mental health is a big one, assuming OP didn't count these under "impossible to get sick, ever" you'll still have the crippling depression that drives 45,000 americans to take their lives every year and a predicted 1 million that inflict harm on themselves. $\endgroup$ – Lio Elbammalf Feb 5 '18 at 10:18
  • $\begingroup$ That's a point. As everyone is healthy the performance-orientation in our society would increase drastically. This will most possibly lead to an alarming amount of burnouts and depressions. $\endgroup$ – Herr Derb Feb 6 '18 at 15:23
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This isn't so much of a problem as it appears on the surface. In point of fact, this may actually result in economic growth.

The first thing that's important to note is that the number of days lost to illness by employers goes down to zero. That means that most business are already more effective because you don't have to worry about sick leave for anything. Even accidents and murders are more or less extinct, so training new staff doesn't carry the risk of loss to injury or death. Loss to competitors is still an issue, but overall your training dollars are worth more productivity than they are in the past because the risk of losing the skills developed actually goes down.

Sure, it can be argued that some employers are going to need less staff because they no longer have to over-hire to account for sick leave among their number, but the number of working days available to the employers has just gone up. This means that despite any short term adjustments that some companies will doubtless engage in, the economy is likely to benefit from a more productive workforce in the medium to long term.

As for the healthcare industry; sure there are going to be losses here. Nurses in particular are going to be hit hard as their entire career is built around the idea of caring for the sick. That said, their skills are still quite formidable and their concern for others make them ideally suited in some other industries, like occupational therapy and Workplace Health and Safety assessments.

Doctors may be better off; some will retrain around psychiatry and psychology (mental health could be a little worse off in this environment due to the strain of not being able to take sick days to get some rest away from the stress of work) and medical receptionists and administrators just take their skills to other industries. The rest of the GPs and the like still have analytical and diagnostic capabilities so they will find themselves able to retrain into other STEM fields which (while inconvenient) isn't fatal to aspirations of a rewarding career.

Hospitals can be re-purposed as buildings, and some measure of aged care will still be required as well so at least some of the beds will need to be kept. The OP hasn't discussed the risks associated with childbirth, but there will still be a need for midwives (even if not obstetricians) to assist with this in an ideal environment. So, maternity wards may not shut down either.

The medical research world (and for that matter the pharmaceutical industry) still have roles to play insofar as ongoing medical research would now focus on longevity rather than organic maintenance. Pharmaceutical companies are already in the chemical industry in most cases (Ever noticed that the company Bayer makes both aspirin and Baygon, an insect surface spray?) so while they may wind back certain production activities, they just focus more on others. More research on fertilizers to feed the growing population for instance.

Even companies that manufacture diagnostic imaging equipment just use their expertise to solve different problems.

In the short term, yes there will need to be an adjustment. Some people will struggle as this change represents a massive redistribution of skills and priorities for society as well as business. But in the medium to long term, the skills that are freed up by the lack of medical demand are still useful skills that could be applied to accelerating the resolution of many different intractable problems that mankind still hasn't solved yet.

That, and the increased average productivity of workers in general, mean a healthier economy over time.

It should be pointed out that this very problem was postulated as a potential outcome of the introduction of computers into the business environment. To be sure, computers DID make some jobs redundant and continue to do so. When was the last time you saw a position vacant for a filing clerk at a registry? That said, in terms of numbers, even more jobs have been created by computers than have been lost and this continues to be the trend. What computers have done is automated the lower skilled jobs and created many more highly skilled roles that need to be filled.

The removal of medicine would result in a similar adjustment but with a singular exception; everyone with a job disrupted by this change is already highly skilled and can enter the workforce almost immediately (or with some additional light training) in another field. In that one respect, this would cause less of a disruption to the modern economy as the introduction of computers has.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 but I think there would be more temporary disruption than you think. It would take time for them to integrate into other parts of the economy. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Feb 5 '18 at 8:44
  • $\begingroup$ Very true. I got thinking after I wrote this and thought to myself that man's own resistance to change means that there is likely going to be a disruptive transition and 'short term' could still be a few years. $\endgroup$ – Tim B II Feb 5 '18 at 9:04
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Let's take a page out of the history book of the tobacco industry.

In many respects cigarette sales were the mainstay of convenience stores. But with public policy moving against the tremendous societal costs of health care from smoking, this industry seemed to go into demise. So convenience stores simply upped the price of pop and candy to compensate. In America, they also looked towards beer sales. They substituted one vice for another.

Methinks that the medical-health industry would just find an alternative. I suggest that it would be in recreational drugs. Once you remove the health issues from recreational drugs, alcohol, and tobacco, there is no longer a reason to proscribe them.

Instead of spending the money to get better, the money would be spent on ways to get worse.

But, alas, there is the rub. Humans don't need a virus mutating and turning our bodies into super-long-lasting health machines. All we need to do, in order to eliminate perhaps 80% of our health problems, is to live a healthy lifestyle. Yet we don't. We continue to abuse our bodies.

Simply put, the more health issues we eliminate, the more money we spend on ways to destroy our health. With a super body, we would just engage in and spend money on super destructive activities.

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The problem is self-limiting. Mankind will die out.

With your bulletproof skin, it is no longer possible to either give natural birth, or give birth via caesarian section.

It will also prevent surgery for not-infection-related but nevertheless lethal if untreated disorders. Such as (not a conclusive list) anything that involves e.g. an artery or vein on your intestines, or the complete thing (or testicles if you have them) becoming obstructed, contorted, or twisted. Cholecystolithiasis? Bad luck for you. Child swallowed something that won't come out by itself? Bad luck again.

That being said, bulletproof skin does not by any means imply you're invulnerable or immortal. Blunt trauma will kill you just the same via internal bleeding. Except now, there's no way (no easy way, at least) to treat you!

Same goes for bones. Bones like carbon fiber take more force to break, but they're not unbreakable. Let's hope they don't severe an artery or a vital organ. Because, you know, there's basically nothing you can do about it.

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Over population

So it sounds like you're going to stop everyone dying of...well, anything (except at some arbitrary age). That's millions of extra people a year, the population will sky rocket, especially (if we're talking the world) in countries with higher death rates from disease and lack of safety regulations. The doubling rate of populations will increase, the rate at which new homes, more food, water, sanitation (or do you skip that since it can't kill you anyway?), schools, jobs...every country will have an increase in the unemployed before we've even started thinking about the impact on medical workers.

A lot of comments here have talked of industries which have become obsolete but in those instances you're talking about the advent of the computer age or the industrial revolution. These create jobs too, computers need people to build them, design them, to write software and fix them when they inevitably break. As far as I can tell your solution requires no up keep, there isn't a new field created for those who have become unemployed to enter.

Of course we can argue people will find a way. Perhaps, now they won't die, gun ranges will start paying people to stand down the target end to make things more interesting. Maybe drug imports will hit a new high. Perhaps plastic surgery. The point is, however, that these are existing markets (except the getting shot at one, I think) as contrasted to the computerisation which increased as it took other jobs.

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    $\begingroup$ Good luck doing plastic surgery (or any other kind of surgery) on bullet-proof skin. ;-) $\endgroup$ – Dubu Feb 5 '18 at 10:25
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    $\begingroup$ Nope, society just adapts. For example, UK population in 1700 was basically stable at 6 million, and it was still there in 1740. By 1800 it was 10 million, due almost entirely to reduced child mortality. By 1900 it was 30 million, with the birth of proper medicine, and by 1950 it was 50 million. But by 2000 we were only at 65 million, and of those, 13% have immigrant ancestry. In most of Western Europe, birth rates have slowed to replacement levels or below. When you know your children won't die young, it's unambiguously better to raise fewer children with a higher standard of living. $\endgroup$ – Graham Feb 5 '18 at 12:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Dubu As far as I'm aware most bullet proof vests are vulnerable to knife attack. $\endgroup$ – Ludo Feb 6 '18 at 10:22
  • $\begingroup$ @Graham Indeed but there will still be a cultural backing to families with many children. Some religions see it as a duty (Judaism does, I think), so perhaps in time the majority of people will have fewer children but there will still be an initial population boom and there will, perhaps, be an over representation of some cultures in the generations to come. $\endgroup$ – Ludo Feb 6 '18 at 10:28
  • $\begingroup$ @Ludo Sure, there'll be an initial population boom before things settle down. Long-term though it'll settle down. All Abrahamic religions have "go forth and be fruitful", but the degree to which that's followed is cultural, not religious. But given the exceptional nature of this, it's quite likely that there would be government reactions - you could easily envisage every country setting their own "one child policy". $\endgroup$ – Graham Feb 6 '18 at 19:51
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Wrong assumtion

Your scenario assumes that by increasing the resistance of the human body "health" would become irrelevant. This is, IMO, wrong, and ignores the following concept.

Usually one uses the term health, to indicate how the human body/mind operates. This, however, can be applied to any system that has to operate in certain conditions, biological or artificial.

Healthcare will remain, it will just be renamed and perceived differently.

All systems need maintenance of some kind.

Just because your bones are stronger, it doesn't mean they are eternal. What makes you die of old age is the same thing that makes your car engine fail, your computer fail to boot and the sun's fusion stop in a few billion years. It's called entropy.

Everything will deteriorate, suffer wear and decay, entropy cannot be stopped, just slowed down to a certain point. Every modern technology and science regarding human health, is nothing more than a way to slow down entropy. Humans will always try to overcome this (mortality), a carbon fiber bone won't stop them from trying to become even stronger and live longer.

"Health" would probably become something else, "Nano-Maintenance" & "Bio-Regeneration".

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  • $\begingroup$ Wrong assumption. Entropy have to increase only in closed systems. Human body is open system. System that gets energy, and thus can get rid of entropy. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Feb 7 '18 at 7:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Mołot, yes the human body is an open system, and that's exactly the point. I guess I should have been more clear on what I mean with entropy, which might have been used too lightly, and intended in a more philosophical way (order/disorder). As long as you put energy (order), aka maintenance, into it, it'll kept working. Health issues are a variable increase of entropy (disorder) that need to be dealt with by providing a variable decrease of entropy (order). In some cases (accidents) the human body, even if vastly enhanced, will required external maintenance to return to an ordered state. $\endgroup$ – r41n Feb 7 '18 at 9:00
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I know this has an answer already picked but it is completely wrong.

TLDR: The economy would return after about 2 generations, but meanwhile there will be famine and shortages of a lot of things that are needed for life

Economic and the Fallacy of the Scrooge McDuck vault:

Those of us who work 9-5 have no idea how the rich live their day to day life. The common belief is that if you are rich, you will have a large vault in your house so full of money that you can swim in it. This is not true, most income comes from investments, the little money we workers make is just a drop in the bucket. Think that NFL players are super rich, their income is about 8% of the revenue the NFL makes. Those owners are way more rich then any player, and their income is larger and lasts longer.

So if you are doing away with that large a part of the economy, it is basically making that much assets become worthless. Not only will there by massive layoffs, but some of the largest holders of wealth will no longer have any assets, and no longer have any income. To see what happens when the wealth and income is removed to individual rich people, look into what happens to celebrities who run afoul of the IRS. It does not matter how cool their stuff is, it is never enough to cover their expenses. No imagine a whole gang of Bill Gates having their income and assets removed overnight

Biology ecosystems and the mistake in Yellow-stone Park

Prior to the conservation movement there was an experiment to remove all wolves from Yellowstone Park. This was seen as a positive win-win situation to both people and the cute deer there. However, this resulted in massive die-off of deer and all other connected species simply because there were too many deer.

There is no reason to think that this will not affect humans the same way. We a larger population, almost over-night, there will be more people going after the existing resources which are not increasing in your scenario. The unscrupulous will go after the civilized and just take their stuff since while we are young, we can't die.

The Black Plague

This is my weakest argument since just because an certain outcome is expected from a situation doesn't mean that the opposite situation will give you the opposite outcome. The result of the black plague, where in just a few years 1/4 of the population of Europe died, cause the concentration of wealth to be spread around fewer people. Having more people could mean less wealth. However in the modern world, a larger population means more production and more production means more wealth. I submit that the assumption is that there is a stable economy were each additional person increases demand as well as production. With people newly becoming semi-immortal, but being raised mortal, would no longer produce anything since why would they need to. Those who can, will steal from those that are meek. Those that are meek will just hide.

Conclusion

You are fundamentally changing the motivations and assumptions of humanity. To keep it simple, every one of the ten commandments sounds good to everyone (except maybe the one about keeping holy the Sabbath) because we could die at any moment. We need to form families so we have some legacy since we could die. We need to strive to give our families (or ourselves) the best standard of living because we can die at any moment. We don't take risks because we can die at any moment. The risks we do take have a bigger payoff because we could die at any moment.

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Boom and re-purposing of medical profession

I agree with MichaelK. Economy will boom. For most people, there will be no more medical expense. No insurance premiums (and higher salaries for employed), nor copay/deductibles. No time wasted being sick.

20 year that OP has wisely put in gives economy plenty of time to adapt. The rich will get the new genetic enhancements first, then it will gradually become affordable to middle classes, then government will pay for treating the poor.

I agree with others that medical people will find new purpose.

Mental/emotional health is a possibility for those who work in it, but it is too far from physical/surgical medicine.

Recreational drugs do not sound something that newly unemployed doctors would enjoy doing. Production will be taken over by pharmaceutical industry, but retail sales will be done by bars and liquor stores.

Key new application of medical profession will be further enhancement. better versions of the same genetic enhancement that eliminated disease. Further, plenty of application for conventional medical tools like drugs and surgery: changing bone structure, growing muscles, improving lung and heart function, eventually getting into brainpower (since that's what makes most of the money in the first place).

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There will be certainly some health issues hard wired into the humans to keep them in the loop of healthcare. Like we have planned obsolesnce today in some of our hardwares. Because there will be lot of investment done on the sector and we will have a percentage of population yet to be upgraded or a group of humans kept intact as a specimen of the past for if something goes sideways.

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It seems to me that any danger or loss from the disappearance of the medical sector would be more than compensated-for by the increased productivity in literally every sector other than the medical sector. If employees stop taking sick days, for example, then companies have lower personnel expenses, better scheduling, better team cohesion, higher daily productivity, and higher employee morale from the higher daily productivity. More bonuses and lower turnover. And that's just from the improved conditions on the human-resources side of the equation.

All private enterprises must sell to stay in business, and consumers buy when they are optimistic about their economic circumstances. People are unwilling to spend money if they feel they must set aside money for sick days, medical costs, or retirement, or unexpected expenses. They are unwilling to spend money if they feel insecure in their jobs. They are willing to spend money if they feel they have job security and are anticipating a payraise or increase in income. Can you imagine how much money people would spend on discretionary items if they believed they were literally immortal?

So, in sum, the immortality virus outbreak would be great news, especially, for luxury home developers, luxury car dealers, jewelers, fashion designers, vacation and travel agents, private aircraft and watercraft, fine arts, fine dining, and so on. The increased revenues generated at the higher income brackets, and higher economic growth in general, would provide a massive increase in tax revenues, even if the top rates were not raised (and they probably would be).

Combine that with the fact that there would be no government expenses toward disability payments and medical care, for anybody, and much higher labor force participation, then you are left with a massive budget surplus. This imaginably huge, unprecedented budget surplus could easily provide unemployment benefits to the now-unemployed doctors and hospital employees, which could easily equal or exceed their current salaries--and nobody would bat an eye. The powerful medical-sector lobby would demand it from lawmakers, and there would be no effective counter-lobby from anybody else. (The average voter, of course, would want to see their doctors and former caregivers well taken care of. And any politician who said anything vaguely disrespectful about doctors would find his comments used by his opponent's campaign.) Thus, the newly unemployed physicians, nurses and so on would be the new leisure class.

The premise of your question seems to be, "what if everybody in the world suddenly, unexpectedly attained a vast, immense sum of material wealth, as well as an unimaginably permanent sense of happiness, security and well-being? --except for a tiny group of people who are universally loved, trusted and respected by everybody else, what would happen to them?"

You can't find a downside to utopia. You just can't.

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How could any (US or otherwise) economy recover from this?

Most of the third World would just carry on, many people are fit and active right up until the end, and healthcare is a joke anyway. People would live longer, population pressures and control of resources would be impacted probably causing strife.

In the first World healthcare professionals would hit a slump, but phychiatry would take off.

Eventually it would all even out, there would just be less doctors and less people interested in the medical professions.

A lot of recreational outfits would boom as the majority of first World people who actually have money to afford them found a new lease on life and the energy to get out of their chairs and push some limits.

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