# How to mitigate the economic impact of immortality?

So, I'm writing a story about the modern world after a mysterious event starts giving humans superpowers. While most people can only keep a couple of them at a time, there were a few that everyone over the age of 13 received permanently when all of this started, and one of them was a potent regenerative power that does the following:

• Halts and reverses aging; nobody with this power ages past their apparent twenties
• Grants immunity to nearly all diseases
• Lets people eventually fully recover from anything that doesn't kill them (an hour for minor scratches, a day for more severe wounds, a week for lost body parts)
• Retroactively heals all injuries, scars, and disabilities you weren't born with

Now one of the first things that occurred to me about this would be that the economic implications would be insane. Everyone in retirement is suddenly faced with the prospect of long outliving their retirement fund and has to go back to work, flooding the job market with highly qualified and young applicants that actual young people would struggle to compete with. All non-emergency medical care would become unnecessary for all but the youngest generation, crippling the demand. And of course, in the long term, several generations of humans with eternal health and youth would cause the death rate to tank and the population to skyrocket over the next few decades.

I'm sure there's more I missed (and please feel free to mention anything that comes to mind if I have), but I'm concerned more about if there are any solutions. While I do want to explore the cultural and social implications of what these powers do to the modern world, I don't want it to be excessively dark and brutal, at least not all the time, and not at first. So I'm hoping to find some way these darker side-effects could be mitigated, or how this could possibly be turned to the advantage of the economy.

What could a country do to keep the effects of this newfound immortality from devastating the economy, or possibly turn it to its advantage?

• I like this premise. Could you comment on the effect on brain plasticity? The world changes an awful lot and old people are notoriously inflexible about their beliefs, worldview and habits. Would they get back the ability to change their minds and habits to adapt to new things? – Green Apr 29 '18 at 21:06
• @Green I hadn’t thought about that, but I suppose yes they would, considering they’d get their general strength of mind and memory back too. – Jason Clyde Apr 29 '18 at 21:08
• What happens to under-13's who did not the get immortality? Will they get immortality when they hit 13, or will they age normally? Also, can your immortals breed, and will their children be immortal? *** If you limit immortality only to present-day adults, they will likely enslave the mortals, since they start out as children (but they might revolt when they grow up). If you have growing population of immortals, they will end up expanding to other planets as Thorne said. – Bald Bear Apr 30 '18 at 18:18
• What sort of time period are you talking about? In the short run, say, 100,000 years, these things will resolve themselves. Oh, my bad, I started thinking like someone who is immortal for a moment. Let me shorten it further: are you looking at the first year of this? the first decade? the first century? – Cort Ammon Apr 30 '18 at 20:22
• Ahh. So the important thing I get from that is that this period wont be long enough for anyone's mindset to change. Their brains might be more plastic, but a 60 year old will still have the mindset of a 60 year old. – Cort Ammon Apr 30 '18 at 20:47

Here's how I paraphrased the question:

The society in my book is about to receive a shock like walking off a cliff and falling in front of a semi at 65mph. How can I make sure my society's shoes don't come untied during the impact?

The effects of providing immortality to 6 billion people is gargantuan compared to the minor details of economics. Even more are the social aspects that are going to have to occur to deal with a group of 6 billion people who can have children and will outlive them. Societies are not designed to withstand that, and that will be a far greater shock than a few dollars in a retirement fund.

But hey, let's see what happens.

First off, they're not going to crowd out the young generation at first. Why would they? If you had savings to last you 10 years, and you suddenly had the body of a 20 year old, would you go step back into the rat race immediately, or would you first do all those things you said you'd do "if only you were young?" Sure, there'd be a few people who ran out of savings and would have to re-enter the market, but the vast majority would probably have the wisdom to live a different life.

Yes, the hospital system would suffer at first, with a sudden decrease in use, but I don't think anyone is going to consider a solution to the $3 trillion healthcare problem to be "destroying society." Countries with a worse healthcare record might actually fare better. If you don't need as many safety precautions in place, you can make more product with less! And any area someone would want to vacation in is going to see a huge increase in tourist travel! People who do go back to work are going to be downright happy. I haven't met a person yet who doesn't wish they could go back with what they know now and what they have now, and live it with a 20 year old body. Those are going to be some of the happiest most productive workers you ever met. Now that's for the first few years. Beyond that, all the other completely-earthshattering aspects of your superpower are going to start to matter, and they are going to change society completely in every way shape and form. The social implications are so great that I wouldn't even treat them as implications. They completely swamp all previous aspects of society and force rewriting entirely new sets. Economics... it'll just come along for the ride. Your comment said that only a fixed number of people get immortality (those over 13 when the event hit). Under-13's and children of immortals will age and die normally. This limits problems with overpopulation - population will stabilize after about 100 years, as death rate among mortals will balance out the birth rates of both mortal and immortal parents. In the long term, Immortals will have fewer children than mortals (per woman per year): they have no "biological clock" ticking, they will likely be richer, and richer people have fewer kids. Most developed nations can feed 2-3 times more people that they have today; there are currently legal limits imposed food production to prevent food prices from falling to a point where farmers would go bankrupt. Once modern farming practices are extended to all of the world, there will be no problem feeding 2-3 times more people. There will be a serious decline in Medical industry, at least until mortals start getting older. I suspect most doctors will move into cosmetics and performance enhancement. The interesting social dynamics is division between mortals and immortals. Mortals have finite time to have children, and save for retirement. Immortals are much more concerned about losing their life. So you amplified the generational differences. Also note that for a while, all mortals will be raised as children of immortals. Eventually mortals will be old enough to have their own children, but they will be still used to seeing immortals as parents or general adults. Immortals (as the only adults on the planet) will obviously try to shape the society their way. Advanced societies will try to balance interests of mortals and immortals. Traditional societies will continue to be run by the elders, i.e. immortals. Mortals in them will eventually rebel. I even suspect some middle-aged immortals joining the mortal cause, hoping to replace older immortals as leaders, or general lack of respect from them. The above assumes no other changes. If you have your aliens or gods or superheroes threatening society, we definitely shift to immortals rule: mortals are replaceable cannon fodder, immortals are the wise leaders. A mortal will die anyway, so he might as well die protecting his world, his species, his parents, and his siblings (including those that his immortal parents will have in the future). Re outliving your retirement fund, you simply have to think in terms of financial independence rather than retirement. For instance, say you've saved \$1 million, and have it invested in funds that return 4% after inflation. If you retire at 65 and want your money to run out at 100, you can take out \$4427.75 dollars per month. But if you take out only \$3333.33 dollars per month, your money will last forever.

Piggybacking off of Galastel's answer, in a society of immortals one might find the traditional retirement replaced by "sabbaticals." These could come about simply as a spontaneous cultural change, or as the result of legislation by the government, depending on the politics of your world. Either way, a person works 30 or 40 years in a given profession, all the while saving up a large amount of money in an investment account. At that point he/she resigns and takes, say, 10-15 years off work to travel, spend time with family & friends, or (perhaps) start pursuing education to move onto a whole new career track. Upon finishing that education he/she becomes a "fresh out" with no more experience or advantage (other than general life lessons) over his/her counterpart who is 30-40 years younger. (Or 70-80 years younger, or 100-110 years younger... I mean hey, why not try out a whole range of careers if you have all the time in the world to do so? It worked for Lazarus Long! :) )

In a society of immortals, boredom is IMO the chief concern of the prolonged lives. Hence you'd find a strong demand for entertainment options. The arts in all aspects could and would benefit: theater, TV/movies, literature, etc. The older & wealthier a given individual becomes, the more likely he/she may be to scout out promising young artists, actors, writers etc. to sponsor financially.

Food supply, as you mentioned, would be a pinch point. I would imagine this world, if the people have the sense & the resources, would start R&D for space colonization (piggybacking off Henry Taylor's answer now). That's another opportunity for new jobs, needing talented engineers, researchers, etc. Colonies may be habitable planets in other solar systems, or self-supporting space stations, or both.

All these of course are quite optimistic results. On the darker side (perhaps tying in with that entertainment industry boom), you might start seeing, say, gladiatorial competitions -- "happily" enabled by the fact that the fighters can cut each other to ribbons and then be healed up and back at it in a month or so. (Varley's Steel Beach, I believe, envisioned such -- although in that case it was just a highly advanced medical science that enabled it.)

But one way or another, I think there are plenty of possibilities for the economy to absorb and adapt to these new circumstances.

You talk of retirement funds. People retire at an age when it is significantly harder for them to continue working, and the retirement fund is meant to provide for the years when they would need more health services etc. With this new immortality, people would be able to continue working indefinitely. No need to retire. Since the older generations would be able to work, and needn't worry about health expenses, they would be able to financially assist their children and grandchildren, allowing them to get higher education, start looking for jobs when they are better qualified.

You'd have a richer population (same working older people, who have amassed funds), so you'd be able to sell them stuff. That's conductive for new enterprises to grow. Some branches of the market would suffer (production of coffins, for instance), but more would grow. (For instance, you'd need more housing, since there'd be more people. Housing provides jobs to many people: architects, interior designers, construction workers, furniture designers and makers, etc.)

More jobs, more services provided, would mean that all those young able-bodied people would have no shortage of jobs. Financially, your world should flourish.

There is, however, a serious caveat: how are you going to feed all those people? Earth's resources are finite. If you don't have enough food for everyone, food prices would skyrocket, so would crime rates (by desperate hungry people), economy would be strained by the inability to have everyone's basic needs met.

• Eat your leg, it'll grow back in a week. If you get really hungry eat your other leg as well. It can't make you sick. – Separatrix Apr 29 '18 at 18:52
• @Separatrix Except you still need to eat to grow your limbs back. – Jason Clyde Apr 29 '18 at 19:00
• @JasonClyde, you are eating, your own leg :) – Separatrix Apr 29 '18 at 19:03
• @Separatrix conservation of energy, plus you’re not even eating the whole leg. – Jason Clyde Apr 29 '18 at 19:10
• OP said that there is a fixed number of immortals. Population will stabilize, and we have the technology to produce 2-3 more food than we need to – Bald Bear Apr 30 '18 at 20:00

We would immediately have to head out into the stars. Earth is a limited space with limited resources.

With immortality, we could head out in (no longer) generational ships and it would becomes a must.

Without people dying, the population will explode within a generation.

As explained in the comments, we're looking at a relatively small slice of the population - people who were 13 at the time of the event - no older, no younger.

I've no idea how many 13 year olds there are in the world now, but it's not a monstrous number. Childstats.gov lists children from 12-17 as one group, and it's about ten percent of the population, so 13 year olds might be, call it 2-3% of the population? Not a massive number. So I suspect the predictions of massive changes to the economy would be nowhere near as calamitous as predicted. A 2 or 3 percent drop in healthcare needs is not that great.

Having said that, as time passed, these "Longtimers" will almost certainly rise as a class - not necessarily a ruling class, but almost certainly more wealthy and educated, simply because they have the time to do so.

On the entertainment aspect, I expect there will be a fair to middling sample of that group who will engage in what would normally be described as self-destructive behavior. The kind of pranks and stunts we see on the electric-type you tube will look tame by comparison. They'll be done partially just to pass the time, but also for the desire for fame. People have courted fame by doing geek tricks for centuries.

But even that will, I expect, pass, as people realize there's a fairly large population that can do just the same thing, and the move will shift to skill being the desired type of stunt. Rather than watch a guy jump off a cliff and live, it'll be much more impressive to watch a guy who's done that so many times that he's gained the skill to parkour down the cliff and land without breaking a sweat.

Using the "10,000 hours to master a skill" rule, we'll see these Longtimers become increasingly versed in more (and more esoteric) areas - musical instruments, etc.

• It’s everyone over the age of 13, not everyone who was exactly 13. – Jason Clyde Jun 11 '18 at 15:51
• Ah, bugger, I mis-read the clarification. NVM. – VBartilucci Jun 11 '18 at 15:53

Excellent: we'll be having a big lot of immortal teenagers with a stable body methabolism. They will not be able to change at all. Once reached the age of 20, they will not keep new information in their brains, since their neurons will stay at the precise conformation they had the moment they stopped aging. If they were past their twenties, they will lose all information and experience accumulated so far. They will be a bunch of young Wolverines without the claws. They will be useful only as workers and soldiers.

Of corse, there will be the problem of a massive baby boom, which in turn will lead to catastrophic consequences for the available resources, but in the meantime, some positive effects will affect society at large:

1) the new immortals can give freely blood and organs, save a lot of lives without consequences for themselves -that is, provided the transplanted organs won't act like tumors in the receivers' body and overtake his/her body.

2) The new immortals won't be needing water and food at all. They live in a constant stable state, they won't need to nourish themselves. Perhaps they will be convinced to move to Antarctica to colonize it, or even better to space, where they could build planetary colonies without risks. Not needing food or water, their help will be unvaluable.

What negative economic effects?

You have just opened the entire solar system for us to plunder! The biggest thing keeping us from mining the asteroid belts and outer planets is the negative effects of hard radiation and weightlessness. With enhanced human healing to negate those issues...

The stars are ours!

• Downvoted because those are really minor concerns. Real problems are that the costs of getting there, and living there in any sort of reasonable comfort, far exceed any economic benefits from mining. – jamesqf Apr 30 '18 at 18:42