31
$\begingroup$

Modern earth, no magic. Only difference is that a small percentage (~1%) of the population are biologically immortal, they can die by accidents/murder/etc but are immune to old age and disease (they will spend forever in perfect health).

My question is how do I stop these people from dominating the economy? They have all the time in the world so even small investments will grow and grow and grow without their death forcing their money to be redistributed to their children/family/state?

Edit: As this was asked multiple times the fact a subset of humans are immortal is widely known and is a part of society, it's just how it always been.

$\endgroup$
11
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @EvilSnack Can you build on that? From a practical point of view (and simplifying something awful), every law in existence is an effort to avoid a human rights violation - to develop what someone thinks is "fair." I'm curious to hear what else you think it would/could be? $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Oct 21, 2021 at 14:39
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I have to take back the comment, because someone has posted a counter-example. I know that admitting an error might violate the Internet's community standards, but there it is. $\endgroup$
    – EvilSnack
    Oct 21, 2021 at 14:59
  • 27
    $\begingroup$ I've read that as "A subset of humanity is immoral, how do I stop them from financially dominating?" which I'd also love to see workable suggestions for $\endgroup$ Oct 21, 2021 at 21:43
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @computercarguy Worse than that, every generation there would be 1% more immortals, making the US European population maybe 10%+ immortals. But the OP could easily go 0.1%, or 0.001% or "whatever percent it is so there are 5,000 immortals in the world now". $\endgroup$ Oct 21, 2021 at 21:47
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ 1% is way, way too much. The world would be a feudal fiefdom, stuck in (at best) early middle ages. Rather make it a pool of, say. 5000 immortals. If one gets killed by violence, his "gift" is transferred to the next child the be conceived. (oh dear, i can just think how that can be abused. "the King is dead! Let the fornications commence so we can find the New King!!") $\endgroup$
    – PcMan
    Oct 22, 2021 at 15:48

30 Answers 30

36
$\begingroup$

Wealth tax

In your setting, a wealth tax has been enacted, which is based on the net value of a person's assets. It could be a progressive tax, even climbing to 100% beyond a certain point - this would basically be a hard cap on any individual's wealth, as any additional wealth would go to the government and not the individual. In our world, wealth taxes have been enacted or proposed as a means of combating the "rich get richer" phenomenon where society's wealth becomes increasingly concentrated in the hands of a small number of people.

Of course, wealth taxes will be unpopular with the super-rich, so for it to work as intended, there shouldn't be too many ways of dodging the tax. You wouldn't be able to implement such a thing in a small country that has easy access to other developed nations without such a tax, as the wealthy elite will simply move somewhere that has no wealth tax.

$\endgroup$
17
  • 43
    $\begingroup$ In the real world, this continues to be a problem with families rather than individuals, since wealth stays in the family and the family is effectively immortal. Historically the way this goes is that a family gets richer until either one of the offspring messes up and wastes their wealth, or there's some kind of civil war and their wealth is seized. $\endgroup$
    – Turksarama
    Oct 21, 2021 at 1:19
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ The biggest threat to most family wealth is money mismanagement. Typically you don't expect it to last more than 3 generations. $\endgroup$
    – Nelson
    Oct 21, 2021 at 8:19
  • 26
    $\begingroup$ If real life is anything to go by, these people probably also control the government (because they are wealthy) and therefore there will be no wealth tax. $\endgroup$
    – user253751
    Oct 21, 2021 at 11:23
  • 10
    $\begingroup$ @Nelson 3 generations is largely a myth. There is plenty of 'old money' in Europe. Research also shows that socio-economic status is very persistent. Many wealthy families manage to keep their wealth for several centuries. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Oct 21, 2021 at 16:41
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ @Andreas for exactly the same reason wealthy immortals are: they will tend to accumulate wealth not just in absolute terms, but in absolute share. The reason is simple: the wealthier you are the more opportunity you have to gain more wealth, and the less you have to spend (proportionally) on just existing. In theory if nothing stopped it, all the worlds wealth would eventually belong to a single financial entity, in this case a wealthy family. $\endgroup$
    – Turksarama
    Oct 21, 2021 at 23:47
30
$\begingroup$

Struldbruggs

There is a classic solution to this problem, described by Jonathan Swift in his iconic Gulliver's Travels. In there, a nation of Luggnagg had a similar issue with a number of immortal people.

those immortals would in time become proprietors of the whole nation, and engross the civil power, which, for want of abilities to manage, must end in the ruin of the public

so the solution was

As soon as they have completed the term of eighty years, they are looked on as dead in law; their heirs immediately succeed to their estates; only a small pittance is reserved for their support; and the poor ones are maintained at the public charge. After that period, they are held incapable of any employment of trust or profit; they cannot purchase lands, or take leases; neither are they allowed to be witnesses in any cause, either civil or criminal or economic, not even for the decision of meers (metes) and bounds.

$\endgroup$
8
  • 23
    $\begingroup$ This is kind of an overkill: not only does this ban them from becoming overly rich, it practically bans them from having anything; even worse, from doing anything. Not only do they lose everything on their 80th birthday, they are forbidden by law to get even the bare minimum, such as a small flat, or earn any wage to buy food. I don't see how this is necessary. It makes much more sense to, say, have 80-year-long periods when they have to start over from scratch, legally reborning every time. They have to pass on everything they have, but can earn it all back again. $\endgroup$
    – Neinstein
    Oct 21, 2021 at 6:31
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ @Neinstein yeah its complete overkill, but a good starting point /idea for OP. The part about inheritance could be a thing, or maybe they become half-dead: inheritance is executed but they themselves are half or a quarter of the heirs. Plus barring them from public office $\endgroup$
    – Hobbamok
    Oct 21, 2021 at 10:26
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ If they're legally dead, are they able to be prosecuted or imprisoned? Might be interesting if you essentially create an underground anarchy of immortals. $\endgroup$
    – Drake P
    Oct 21, 2021 at 18:30
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ @Neinstein In Gulliver's Travels, it's because they acquire a sort of dementia and can't really keep anything straight that happened after they turned 80. Which is incidentally a solution to the problem the OP poses too $\endgroup$
    – Casey
    Oct 21, 2021 at 20:44
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Actually this isn't overkill. This misses the point. We're not trying to make them undocumented. We're trying to keep them from dominating. All this does is ensure they become drug lords. $\endgroup$ Oct 22, 2021 at 18:46
24
$\begingroup$

Everyone hates them

You mentioned they can still be killed. Well, human jealousy is definitely a thing, and I imagine most people would consider it "unfair" that a few people can potentially live forever. This isn't a huge problem for the first thirty years or so, but once it becomes "obvious" that a certain person is immortal, society turns against them.

Maybe this is even institutionalized; killing an "immortal" is not only legal, but the murderer is entitled to a percentage of the deceased's wealth.

(Disclaimer: this is pretty much the exact setup of the short story "The Trouble with Millennials" by Robert Buettner. Read it here.)

$\endgroup$
3
  • $\begingroup$ A new meaning for “agism”! $\endgroup$ Oct 21, 2021 at 22:59
  • $\begingroup$ And if immortality is hereditary, "racism"! $\endgroup$ Oct 23, 2021 at 3:20
  • $\begingroup$ It is impossible to imagine that a class of super-wealthy people would permit such a law to come into being. If this were not already in place before the first immortals subverted the government, then it would never happen. And it seems unlikely any society would entertain such a law until the need was glaringly obvious -- which the eternally-plotting immortals would ensure does not happen until it's too late. $\endgroup$
    – Tom
    Feb 19 at 1:22
16
$\begingroup$

They are limited (somewhat) by their psychology.

Possible scenarios include:

They can't keep up with rapid advancement of technology and go insane

They live their entire several hundred years before the steam engine. They see society as "not much different from one decade to the next". From the moment where steam engines are widely used, technological advancement feels very fast to them. Their psychology have been accustomed to that slow kind of progress.. and suddenly they see society grew so fast and they arrive in present-day technology, feeling insane.

They're not adapting fast enough to constantly gain an edge in society

If they're born in ye olden days, it may be the case that they're immortal biologically but they feel old, not young anymore. They're not much interested in experiencing/trying out new tech and fond of doing things the old familiar way. This reduces their overall chances of dominating the entire world.

They're bored or tired of living

Simply bored. After living for too long, they don't find anything appealing in living even longer. They've seen everything. Their young blood is now long gone. They don't find anything that excites joy anymore. This one is a minor plot in 2011 movie In Time.

$\endgroup$
3
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ I like that last part. Terry Pratchett's "Strata" also plays with the idea: they don't kill themselves necessarily, but just do increasingly more risky stuff to still feel some excitement (and because they don't really care if they die) $\endgroup$
    – Hobbamok
    Oct 21, 2021 at 10:30
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ These are all valid considerations that seem obvious once read. People above a certain age, even in perfect possession of their cognitive faculties, often seem incapable of keeping up with cultural developments which eventually impairs their ability to participate. $\endgroup$ Oct 21, 2021 at 12:24
  • $\begingroup$ Reminds me of a vampire setting I read once were the oldest vampires get so old and bored they just go catatonic becoming like statues that can only be roused under extreme circumstances. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Oct 22, 2021 at 14:32
12
$\begingroup$

even small investments will grow and grow and grow

This is a wrong assumption: imagine you are one of those immortals, and at the time of the roman empire you invest your money in a garum factory or in manufacturing purple dye, just to name two industries with good income.

Well, you might be immortal, but your investments will collapse with the empire, and good luck with collecting your wealth in those times of uncertainty.

Even in today world, look at how many companies have survived longer than a human life: Philips was once a big name in electronics, today no more; would you have manage to avoid the derivative crash of 2008, or the dot com bubble?

Long story short, even though you might be immortal, you cannot forecast the market ups and downs. You will end up losing part of the investments, and won't end up really dominating the economy.

$\endgroup$
5
  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Oct 21, 2021 at 14:41
  • $\begingroup$ This was my kneejerk thought to, but if the immortal has diversified assets, he will almost certainly trend upward in his wealth. Over time he will have holdings in many nations and in many industries such that no war, nor plague, nor bubble will be enough to make him not rich, only set him back a little. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Oct 22, 2021 at 14:28
  • $\begingroup$ Gold has not lost its value since antiquity. $\endgroup$
    – Solanacea
    Oct 22, 2021 at 15:34
  • $\begingroup$ Philips is still a successful profit making company though. They're just focused on non-consumer health care nowadays. $\endgroup$
    – Abigail
    Oct 23, 2021 at 22:46
  • $\begingroup$ Being immortal means having a really long time to work out things like diversified investment strategies. Sure, some immortals will simply never get the message, ever. But many will. $\endgroup$
    – Ton Day
    Oct 31, 2021 at 13:22
10
$\begingroup$

we already do this, so it won't be as hard as you think

In fact, I suspect the bigger problem would be the consequence of immortal welfare recipients.

We already have (in the United States, probably different elsewhere) a whole set of laws that make it pretty messy to transfer wealth from parent to child. To avoid those laws, many families (the mortal version of immortality) build companies that live "forever," and put their descendants in a position of retaining control of those companies. Since even compound bank interest would be a serious threat to any economy when measured over centuries and millennia, laws would quickly come to pass that restrict how wealthy any immortal can become.

But you might ask, "so where does the welfare come into this? Why wouldn't the immortals be CEOs forever and get around those laws?" Lots of reasons. Boards of Directors (who love to oust people who aren't doing what they think is best for the company) and shareholders (ditto). Also anti-trust laws that prohibit monopolies.... But when push comes to shove, there are really only so many companies that can boast the kind of prolonged wealth you're talking about.

So there really isn't enough economic space for your immortals to be more than a minor impact on the world's wealth. If they chose to focus on crime for their wealth, competitors would set them first in line to be bumped off. If they chose to be Captains of Industry, everyone from competitors to activists to politicians would be driven to keep them from becoming the Ruling Elite. In either case, rules and laws already exist that are intended to keep individuals (and their descendants) from acquiring too much wealth (yes, I know, it doesn't seem to be that way... but it is. You don't want to stop all wealth-mongering, it has value whether you agree with it or not. Necessity being the mother of invention, after all.), which would naturally glom on to your immortals.

This is why you'd have a bigger problem with immortals on welfare. You don't describe them as unreasonably intelligent or powerful, just long-lived. How many reasonably smart people do you know who are near or below the poverty line? More than most of us want to admit. And an immortal on welfare in many ways represents a problem just as nasty as an immortal with a trust fund.

Besides, while everyone wants to live forever, no one wants their neighbor to live forever. And the natural development of law would prohibit your immortals from ever having so much economic traction that they could move the world.

...Well, assuming we don't believe in the Illuminati, the Rothschilds, the Trilateral Commission or the Roswell aliens, whom we all know are really still alive because any sufficiently advanced civilization would have figured out how to gene-splice perfect health and made sure every citizen got it, right?

$\endgroup$
4
  • 13
    $\begingroup$ Modern society already has a super-wealthy class of elites that control a wildly disproportionate fraction of wealth. There already is a financially dominant subset of humanity - how does making them immortal solve that problem? Money has a big impact on politics and consequently law - the natural development of law in the real world has not prevented the wealthy from having outsized impact on society. $\endgroup$ Oct 20, 2021 at 20:18
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @NuclearHoagie I recognize that yours is a popular point of view - but a couple of college classes in economics will help you better understand reality. Yup, there are some ridiculously wealthy people out there - now watch what happens when they die. Is the system perfect? Not at all, but I'm merely pointing out with my answer that being immortal doesn't guarantee wealth just as living today in any country with any skill set guarantees wealth (well, maybe if you're a well-protected drug lord). $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Oct 21, 2021 at 0:46
  • $\begingroup$ although not part of the question, the immortal would dabble in politics, either directly (if they are a known minority, or perhaps majority) or indirectly (if a hidden group, i.e. knights templar, opus dei, illuminati, freemasons, etc) $\endgroup$
    – CGCampbell
    Oct 21, 2021 at 9:11
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @CGCampbell That's why I mentioned the Illuminati. Our world already has what the OP is looking for in a slightly different form: immortal organizations. I suspect there wouldn't be a difference between what the world does today with the organizations (and what they do to the world today) and what the world would do with immortal people - other than it might be a lot easier to kill an immortal person than it is an immortal organization. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Oct 21, 2021 at 14:37
8
$\begingroup$

Along with immortality comes a penchant for bad choices.

When they say "a fool and his money are soon parted" these are the fools they are talking about. These are the some of the people you can fool all of the time and that is what happens. They are immortal but they struggle even worse than ordinary folks to hang on to their money. They should live in constant fear of getting ripped off because it happens often. But they do not, and so it happens often.

The penchant for bad choices and susceptibility to death by accidents means that actually most of these immortals don't get really old.

$\endgroup$
8
$\begingroup$

Communism

You cannot dominate the economy when wealth is equally distributed among all, comrade. As the saying goes: from each according to their capacity, to each according to their needs.

Interestingly, since your immortals should eternally be able-bodied, they should eternally be able to produce for the good of everyone.

Or...

Eat the rich

Enough said.

$\endgroup$
11
  • 18
    $\begingroup$ This just changes how they dominate. Immortals won't be businessmen, they'll be party officials. Honestly this might let them dominate more; anyone who criticizes them can be shut down with accusations of being a counter-revolutionary or a capitalist. $\endgroup$
    – Ryan_L
    Oct 20, 2021 at 17:43
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ A pipe dream. The state is just how society makes and enforces decisions. How will disputes be settled? How will criminals be punished? How will scarce resources be allocated? The idea of a stateless society doesn't even really make sense; cavemen had governments, even chimps have governments. Sure, they may not be codified, but their social relationships are highly ordered. $\endgroup$
    – Ryan_L
    Oct 20, 2021 at 18:16
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ @TheSquare-CubeLaw The fantasies of Marx and Engels have little to do with reality. $\endgroup$
    – user76284
    Oct 21, 2021 at 4:59
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ @TheSquare-CubeLaw Communism doesn't distribute wealth more equally. In practice, it concentrates it further (under the ruling party). $\endgroup$
    – user76284
    Oct 21, 2021 at 14:30
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ @TheSquare-CubeLaw The problem is it requires suspending disbelief about human nature. A society in which people were good enough for communism to work would have no problem with immortals, or anything else really. They could make any system work. $\endgroup$
    – Ryan_L
    Oct 21, 2021 at 14:39
8
$\begingroup$

It seems to me that there is very little difference between an immortal and a certain type of family where generation after generation are working to increase the wealth and power of the family. Both can take a long view, both can have variations in direction over time (because people change, even long-lived people). Both are affected by external factors like the collapse of markets, war, devaluation of currencies and so on.

In fact Old Money families are more likely to be successful over the long term because they can recover from individual failures more gracefully. The death of a family head isn't going to bring it to a halt. Even criminal conviction can be recovered from, because while one or more people go to prison there are plenty of other family members still actively managing the family's fortune.

In the real world there are old families that have incredible amounts of money and power, developed over centuries. I'm not talking (relatively) young money like the Rockefellers, whose progenitor JD was worth (in modern day equivalents) around US$500 billion, I'm talking about Old Money. Aristocratic families that have been around for several centuries and look down on upstarts like JD Rockefeller.

In this world your immortal might not be even particularly wealthy unless he was a financial genius.

$\endgroup$
6
$\begingroup$

The same thing that made them immortal makes them stop WANTING any sort of dominance.

Was it a medical technology/drug, or a mutation? Make it suppress a social domination instinct.

If it was a mutation, then carriers of the gene that was NOT connected to a suppressor of hierarchical domination ended up dying violently, for the last N thousands years, because competitors, though mortal, are much more numerous.

Have they uploaded their minds into a computer? They realize that the process didn't bring most of their instincts over, and emulating hormonal influence in silico tends to drive the digital personality crazy.

Was it magic? Well, then, it's magic that did the same thing.

$\endgroup$
2
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ The principle is promising. It would be better if you'd develop it a bit, the WB community appreciate answers which explore the consequences of one choice, be it only by using examples. $\endgroup$ Oct 21, 2021 at 22:32
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Thank you. Elaborated as much as I could think of now. $\endgroup$ Oct 21, 2021 at 22:44
6
$\begingroup$

The last 300 years have been a historical anomaly. In addition, that anomaly suffers from survivorship bias.

If you took some money 300 years ago, and invested it in the right kinds of assets in the right corner of the world, you'd easily be insanely wealthy today.

But pick the wrong corner of the world, and your investment would be worth nothing. Do the same thing 3300, 2300, or 1300 years ago, and your investment would probably be worth nothing.

The last 300 years has experienced multiple chained economic singularities we call steps in the industrial revolution. From water power and canals, to steam power and railroads, to oil and the internal combustion engine, to electricity and computers, each has been a wave of insanely fast change and growth.

In this environment, putting aside money to bet on the future being richer than the present tends to come up aces a lot. What more, doing so in the set of superpowers that won the global conflicts -- the East-Atlantic British Empire (UK), followed by the West-Atlantic British Empire (USA) -- is going to do even better.

You toss down a fortune in Germany in the inter-war years when it looked like it was going to become a superpower, and you'd have lost it all if you picked the wrong side of East/West Germany after the war.

The world is full of places where it looked like it was a good idea to invest, then within the century every investment would be lost.

What more, such investments would be extremely alien to someone used to the previous thousands of years of history. The idea you'd take wealth and hand it over to someone to make it bigger would be a short term thing as far as the immortals are concerned; every society crashes, and when it does your investments are worth nothing. What more, in most of history, holding onto your investments requires political and military power, as if you get rich someone else will just take your stuff.

And even after all this, your immortals wouldn't be much better off than random Dynasties. Dynasties who pass down assets to a single heir are economically very similar to immortals, especially if the previous heir gets to pick the next one. Such Dynasties where quite successful -- the top ones we know as "Kings" and other nobles -- but not universally so. As your immortals can suffer being killed, such immortal single-person dynasties would typically end with simply killing the immortal.

Long-lived immortals would be aware of this problem; those that have lived a long time will have adapted their lifestyles to avoid it.

The immortals might not have the "stupid heir" problem, but they are in a sense their own stupid heir. They'll get set in their ways and not adapt to the current situation, and their financial empire will fall.

In the post-industrial-revolution singularity states, some of these concerns don't apply. The need to guard your wealth with guns is a bit less (until your society collapses), the need to guard your wealth politically remains the same (or greater).

You'll still be about as well off as large dynasties that have passed their wealth down to one person. Your investment habits that are successful in one era will fail in another, and if you chase the rabbit and change with what habits have recently been successful you'll always miss the initial growth surges.

So your return on your savings will probably be, on average, no better than the financial giants of the past. In the UK, that would be the nobles; while they are (on average) not so badly off, they aren't the titans of the world economy you seem to imply the immortals are.

In the USA, similarly, the heirs of the robber barons of 1800s are not the top of the economic pile today.

$\endgroup$
5
$\begingroup$

You could compare this to the entailed estates of English aristocracy. While individuals were not immortal, the estates - passed down from eldest son to eldest son - were intended to be. Yet it took just one or two generations to be bad gamblers, or back the wrong side in civil wars, for the estate to become bankrupt.

$\endgroup$
4
$\begingroup$

a small percentage (~1%) of the population are biologically immortal

How does that 1% work? If some immortals are killed by accident, are new immortals born to take their place? Are 1% of babies born immortal? Or is it a fixed population of immortals that may be depleted over time by accidents?

they can die by accidents/murder/etc

Rare events and freak accidents start to become a bigger threat the longer you live. Extremely improbable causes of death do happen, and if somebody simply exists long enough, they are likely to succumb to one of them. It could be anything, from a bad slip while stepping out of the shower, to an asteroid hitting their house.

If you have no mechanism of replenishing immortals, their population will eventually approach zero.

Regardless of whether new immortals are born, existing immortals may become extremely risk-averse, withdrawing from society. Knowing that they are vulnerable to murder as well as accidents might make them think twice before doing anything to provoke the ire of the rest of society. This might inhibit them from financially dominating.

$\endgroup$
3
$\begingroup$

Frame challenge: They already dominate the whole world, because they are the ones who actually built the modern world.

You say that:

it's just how it always been

I'm going to arbitrarily take this in the almost literal sense that no recorded history exists of a time when these people were not alive. This can only happen in two cases:

Case 1: They have been alive since before history was recorded. If this is the case, the most likely scenario is that they have already amassed great wealth and power, and of course great knowledge (don't underestimate how much a person can learn in a millenia or two). In fact, they already had great wealth, power and knowledge well before the modern world began to take shape, and should have been perfectly capable of shaping history as they saw fit, effectively building the modern world as it is (either directly, or indirectly through preventing some particular things from happening). As such, it's difficult to argue that they don't already dominate the whole world.

Case 2: They have altered recorded history and collective memory to make it seem like they have been alive "forever". They might have been alive for merely 100 years, or 200 or 500, but they have so much power that they can rewrite history. As such, it's difficult to argue that they don't dominate the whole world.

$\endgroup$
3
$\begingroup$

Limiting wealth alone isn't enough

This is interesting, because there is more than one kind of dominance.

There are several answers already with various schemes to degrade the wealth and influence of immortal individuals, but let's consider how this might really play out.

Imagine an immortal person who is forced to completely start over every so often; they retain only the clothes on their back, and their identity, experiences, and memories, to the point where they might even need to spend the first night in a homeless shelter. Even so, such a person could eventually accumulate the equivalent of several PhDs and multiple life-times of business leadership experience.

Of course, not every immortal would do this, but even those of average ability would eventually start to trend this way, and such a person would be in high demand for top administrative positions in any industry or sphere of influence.

Now imagine even 0.01% of the population has this ability. This is already enough people for there to be precious few of these top positions remaining for "normies", even less so as these individuals start to rise to move in the same circles and get to know each other. They would almost certainly end up with reputations among each other, creating a de-facto network to make getting appointed or hired into top positions even easier.

And all this in a society where they still periodically have to start over from scratch, and only their experiences and identities remain. Individually there would be times for each of them where the influence is reduced, but collectively they would be almost certain to dominate the highest levels of economic leadership.


Instead build in an intrinsic liability by limiting their memory capacity to roughly one "normal" human life-time

One solution is to design your immortals so their memory is limited.

Sure, I may be 4,000 years old. I may even have memories of certain ancient events and people that were especially important to me. However, by and large I have an extremely difficult time remembering anything that happened more than roughly 100 years ago, and sometimes even things more recent.

This limits the ability of your immortals build up the kinds of skill and experience that make them so valuable for those premiere jobs, such that other factors to limit wealth and influence have more of a chance.

Tune the memory limits just right, and you can have it be just enough of a liability to make it naturally difficult for your immortals to accumulate wealth and influence over centuries. For example, they tend to "forget" about investments, which are later declared abandoned and claimed by the government, and are rendered actively undesirable in leadership roles for a perceived tendency to be "flaky".

The limitation doesn't even have to be anything supernatural or unique to immortals. If you want, you can tie this memory issue to a biological limitation of the normal human brain... after around 100 years something just "runs out" on the brain's capacity to store and recall memory data, either like filling up a hard drive in a computer or a performance limit for retrieval speed for older records.

This can work really well, because it doesn't require any other alterations to the real world as it is — no new laws or societal norms — and because readers can believe this limitation is real and part of the normal human condition, whether or not it ever turns out to be true, because no real person has lived long enough to find out.

Both the size limitation and the recall speed limitation can be good hooks for a story. With the former, an immortal could be found at a critical moment to have forgotten something they knew earlier in the story to create tension or suspense, and in the latter they could finally remember something late in the story that has been puzzling them for some time, to help the protagonist get past a problem.


Finally, I would further suggest reducing the proposed numbers of immortals. 1-2% is too high, and closer to 0.01% (1 in 10,000) seems better. This reduces the frequency they would encounter each other naturally and limits the ability for social networks among immortals to develop that might otherwise lead to them collectively having too much influence.

$\endgroup$
1
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Love the biological rather then legal aspect of it, did you just lawyerd the question by avoiding giving a law based answer? $\endgroup$
    – cypher
    Oct 23, 2021 at 20:31
2
$\begingroup$

No arbitrage!

As financial theorists insists, there is no risk-free profit in a healthy market. Anything that is "theoretically risk-free" should earn no more than what is necessary to counter inflation, or someone is monkeying with the financial system. At least on the long run. (This is similar to the answer by L.Dutch, but putting it into modern terms ...)

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

NO WAY.

Right now, we fail to prevent a small percentage of mortal people from dominating the economy.

If some of them are immortal, this doesn't change much of the equation, compared to the usual lineage of rich people. Sure, some middle- or lower-class people get rich, some of those rich go bankrupt, but one cannot really fight the Paretto principle.

On the other hand, do these immortal people procreate? If they don't - problem solved, they will disappear because of one reason or another for a millenium or two. See the micromort concept.

If they do procreate, they will outbreed the mortal people in the same timespan.

The only more or less stable possibility is that they are born to mortal mothers and fathers with low probability and:

  • they are either sterille
  • or their fertility is matched to their longer half-life and their offspring has the same probability of being immortal.

No problem, then. Family relations are a good recipe to get poor. More so if you have a great deal of relatives in your lifespan.

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

It's not a problem.

You might thank that an immortal will eventually gain lots of wealth. But in actual practice the financial situation of an immortal is not different from a non-immortal with a family. One normal person accumulates, passes that down to their child, who uses it to accumulate more, and so on. If "parent" and "child happen to be the same person that makes no difference to their ability to accumulate wealth. They have the same time available to do it. There is no reason why immortals should be better at it than non-immortals, excepting a better ability to think long term.

Throughout most of European history there were families who accumulated huge amounts of wealth and handed it down through their families, dominating the financial landscape of their time. They were called "nobles", and achieved this by largely handing down their estates intact from father to eldest son.

The only thing that makes a difference between families and immortals is inheritance tax - coincidentally the same thing that put paid to the power of the wealth of the nobility. Abolish this and the situations are the same. If you want to prevent the accumulation of wealth by immortals, just make an inheritance tax that gets applied every 150 years to someone even if they are not dead.

$\endgroup$
2
  • $\begingroup$ Does this analogy only stand if families consist of only one child per person - otherwise the wealth gets divided and diluted on each round of our inheritance? $\endgroup$ Oct 22, 2021 at 2:14
  • $\begingroup$ For much of Europe's history rich families passed the vast majority of their wealth down to the eldest son. $\endgroup$ Oct 22, 2021 at 2:18
1
$\begingroup$

YOU NEED A DIFFERENT LEGAL FRAMEWORK FOR THEM

The current economical framework of our civilization is based (among other things) in the assumption that we all are going to die. And I am talking about the length of the bank loans, the age for retirement, the retirement policies, the social security policies, life and medical insurance and many many other topics that revolve their statistics in the fact that, soon or later we will all die (and in more or less predictible situations depending on specific characteristics).

So, if some part of your human population becomes immortal, unavoidably you will need a differnet legal/economic schema for them. You cannot apply the same policies for an insurance, or for a loan, or birth control (talking about China here).
If a bank lends money to an immortal, the clauses must be different, because the bank knows the immortal can be paying for centuries (unless an accident happens, of course, and that consideration should be specified in the contract).
Taxes and benefits also must differ, and also the situation of the childs of the immortals (An immortal could theoretically have hundreds of childs if he/she wants, so birth control policies should also be applied).

$\endgroup$
1
  • $\begingroup$ No, not really. Just retirement age etc. needs to be different. A bank does not care if their loan is to an immortal person, they want reasonable collateral anyways. Maybe immortals need less collateral, but that's about it. No need for much special here. Why change taxes? (again, except for the part that goes into retirement funds if their governmental). And children? People already can have hundreds of children. Some even do. But most people have less than 3 kids, even though 10 is easily possible for any couple without intertility issues $\endgroup$
    – Hobbamok
    Oct 21, 2021 at 10:33
1
$\begingroup$

Inflation and Currency Resets

Society only operates financially so long as the perceived value of goods and services are appropriately established.

As the wealth of any particular individual grows, the value of their wealth will begin to devalue. At first, this would be through inflation - society would charge more money for things, knowing that those who have accumulated too much wealth can pay for it.

In the longer term, inflation would outstrip earnings for most of the non-immortal people. And suddenly, most people wouldn't be able to afford the prices... but would need to survive in order to produce the goods/services in the first place.

A counter-movement would form, in which people would begin using an "underground" currency, to exchange goods and services without needing to go through the hyper-inflated normal market.

Give it a bit of time, and most people would be using the new currency. Meanwhile, the immortals would be starting at square one, just as everyone else does. And as all economic activity switches to the new currency, the old currency rapidly becomes worthless.

The interesting thing about this is, there's really nothing the uber-wealthy immortal can do about it. They could try to create the new currency themselves, but that's likely to backfire.

$\endgroup$
3
  • $\begingroup$ They may not have the new "currency" but they still own realestate & other valuable equipment far in excess then any "normal" human being, so basically even if everyone starts with 0 "newbucks" they start with 0 "newbucks" but a 100 billion "newbucks" worth of land, stock portfolio & precious metals, what's stopping them from just exchanging that for 100 billion "newbucks" and starting off from a much richer starting point then the "norms"? $\endgroup$
    – cypher
    Oct 21, 2021 at 9:39
  • $\begingroup$ This doesn't work in reality. Okay, they own all the land instead of all the gold coins. Big whoop. Actually that's even worse because everyone has to pay them rent. $\endgroup$
    – user253751
    Oct 21, 2021 at 11:27
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @cypher - value is created by demand, so things like stock and precious metals are likely to devalue pretty quickly. For land, it's simpler - in order for any person to maintain control of a certain parcel of land, they need to assert that control. In a currency change scenario, they don't have the money to pay for the security, etc. And don't forget, this is a universe where these immortals always existed, so the laws would develop differently - the principle of squatter's rights would be a lot stronger in such a universe. $\endgroup$
    – Glen O
    Oct 21, 2021 at 21:38
1
$\begingroup$

Several things can be done to assure that immortals are poor and adequately explained:

  • Cursed to be poor
  • Make the world post-apocalyptic
  • Being hunted down
  • Make them nomadic wanderers
  • Island Amish people that never associated with modern society
  • World = dystopian nightmare (ruled by tyrannical tribal communities)
  • "I just wanna live in peace..." (got this plot from a hentai manga about an immortal oni who watched her children grew and spread after her husband died, and waited until he's reincarnated again)
  • Go full The Highlander mode ("HERE WE ARE! BORN TO BE KINGS!...")
$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

When you are immortal you have no particular interest in worldly possessions any more. Been there, done that. Material wealth comes and goes; material possessions decay. Immortality changes your perspective. It makes you humble.

From the perspective of an immortal, the only things that persist through the ages are the ones that are not bound to physical matter. The immortals almost exclusively pursue scientific, spiritual and artistic quests.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

Legal Reincarnation

This is close to Alexander's Struldbruggs answer, but a bit more forgiving. Struldbrugging a person makes them poor and useless for the rest of time, but there are other ways to do it where you allow them to start over just fine. So, every 80 years of their life, they must distribute inheritance, quit their jobs, forfeit their investments, and move away a minimum distance from their previous life.

But, instead of making it illegal for them to work, you just make it illegal for them the work in the same industry or with the same people in 2 consecutive life times. So if they are a politician in their first life, then when they hit 80, they may not pursue a political carrier again until they are 160. So when they hit 80, they pretty much have to go back to college, learn a new skill, and work their way up to again. By the time they hit 160, they could go back to being a politician, but in that span of time working in an unrelated trade, nearly all of the influence they gained in their first life will have evaporated away and their knowledge base stagnated too long to jump right back into it meaning any edge they have over mortals is small.

Another way to look at this is that a 1940's medical degree that you have not had to use or think about in 80 years is not going to be applicable enough to modern medicine to just jump back in. They won't know the first thing about how to install an artificial heart, or operate a medical laser, or how to use a balloon embolectomy catheter... so, even if they do return to an old carrier a whole life time later, they will not be able to rely on old knowledge to be competitive in that field anymore without significant re-education.

$\endgroup$
4
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Imagine a person who had done this a few times... they've earned a dozen PhDs and accumulated multiple lifetime's experience in business leadership in various industries. Such a person would be in high demand for top administrative jobs almost anywhere. Now imagine even 0.01% of the population this way... there'd still be few of these really top jobs available to "normies", and the immortals would still tend to dominate. That is, retaining wealth across the 80 years spans is not necessary for such a group to end up dominant, if they also retain their experiences. $\endgroup$ Oct 22, 2021 at 19:30
  • $\begingroup$ @JoelCoehoorn Rules of industry tend to change a lot over 80 years. If you were an architect 80 years ago, got out of that business, and had to come back to it today, what you know about architecture would be so outdated that your knowledge would do more to hinder you than help. Your experience tells you to spend months hand crafting little models that today are whipped out in days using CAD software. So yes, you have a dozen "PhDs", but one of them is 18th century fashion design, one is in 17th century music composition, one is in 16th century medicine, etc. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Oct 22, 2021 at 22:03
  • $\begingroup$ 64.media.tumblr.com/d611838b8a00dbfe11aba23f47ba93af/… :) $\endgroup$ Oct 22, 2021 at 22:07
  • $\begingroup$ @JoelCoehoorn If you've ever worked in a management position, you probably know that bad experience is worse than no experience. A person with no experience is easy to train on something new, a person with bad experience will consistently try to do the wrong thing the way they have always done it making them much harder to train. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Oct 22, 2021 at 22:14
0
$\begingroup$

Give ownership of money a time-limit

In our modern world, this would entail something of a fundamental re-write of banking, but conceptually shouldn't be impossible.

Essentially every penny in existence is associated with a date that it changed hands.

After say.. 10 - 20 years, money that hasn't changed hands legally will revert to the State.

This essentially requires that money be moving routinely and makes hoarding money long-term much more difficult. You can't just dump billions of dollars into a bank account and expect to leave it there long-term.

The problem I see with this is that the solution is simple. Enter into an agreement with a friend to buy things from them and they from you. Two people making "modern art" and selling it to one another for silly volumes of money in order to avoid their money melting away..

Alternately, you'd get billionaires keeping their money in literal vaults of cash so that it can't degrade in value.

Obviously there are some kinks to work out in the plan.

$\endgroup$
2
  • $\begingroup$ This answer ignores the just keeping money in a vault subjects it to inflation, and the fact all the things wealthy people in the real world do now to ward off inflation also get around this time-limit principle: investments, acquiring assets, and other less liquid forms of value but then using that collateral to get loans. It's not workable. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Oct 21, 2021 at 18:17
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The Spartans tried something similar by making their coins out of iron. As an iron coin rusts, it would lose mass, and thus value. By making money loose value over time, the goal was to make money move faster and force investments instead of hoarding... so many Spartans decided to "invest" in Athenian silver coins that would not rust, thus damaging the Spartan economy while bypassing the problem. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Oct 22, 2021 at 15:05
0
$\begingroup$

Wealthy and influential immortals are bad for business

Every time some local stable system forms (company/government/...) where immortals are in power, it soon becomes stuck developmentally because of a lack of change in leading personnel, and the consequent accumulation of status quo bias/technophobia/overpromotion of incompetents. Other less stable or less immortal-friendly systems can then begin to dominate and are able (and intent) to completely destabilize that system from the outside.

Since this pattern is historically known, even intelligent immortals knowing not to influence mortal dealings too much will be unable to acquire influence/wealth - and even those rare that do, often fall prey to overconfidence and/or the lure of power, not being able to simply live in comfort and ignore everyday affairs (some few immortals were able to resist, and are living "eternally" stable somewhat-rich lifes by making fruitfull deals with groups of mortals - until they are inevitably betrayed by those).

Due to this dynamic, all long-term successfull societies impose some limits on immortals - in some, everyone living past their 60th birthday is executed (which incidentally saves on pension costs), others simply have age-dependent (as well as wealth-dependent) tax (making handing down ones wealth down to ones descendents the only way to "at least keep it in the family"), and still others restrict them to certain jobs/living conditions (eg. historians, or special kinds of advisors always paired with young mortals) (and in some societies, old immortals are simply treated as pariah by all companies in terms of financial dealings).

Also, frequent collapses of societies that do not have immortal restrictions in place just as effectively prevent the accumulation of wealth, since property rights will no longer be guaranteed, and material assets might be acquired by mortals/destroyed in the chaos until a new system stabilizes.

$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

The most powerful force in the universe is compound interest. Not even stupidity exceeds it. If they have access to compound interest, they will dominate, there are no factors that can change this. Even without immortality, compound interest is so extreme as to challenge my ability to describe it... note that the other answers have been attempted in the real world and yet have always failed against compound interest without immortality. How could those hope to succeed in a world with immortality?

I propose that your question has no plausible, valid answer.

$\endgroup$
1
  • $\begingroup$ Compound interest doesn't win against stupidity all of the time. Runaway inflation can make your many billions of dollars suddenly insufficient to buy groceries. (Insert photo of Germans going shopping with wheelbarrows full of old marks.) $\endgroup$
    – Corey
    Oct 21, 2021 at 21:30
0
$\begingroup$

In order of dramatic effect in your story:

  1. They must keep it secret. Anybody (mortal or immortal) found to be obscenely rich is suspected to be in immortal and lynched. The smartest immortals have managed to hide their assets extremely well, others have to feign illness or even death periodically to prevent lynching.

  2. There is a widely accepted religious prohibition against compound interest.

  3. Some immortals have become kings and queens. Their fortune is indistinguishable from the fortunes of the countries they lead. They have to deal with wars, foreign invasions, rebellions, technological breakthroughs, pandemics, etc.

  4. This is the price they paid for their immortality: They made an ancient pact with the source of their immortality to give 9/10 of their wealth every year at summer solstice to charity. If they don't, they lose their immortality for a year.

$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

The big problem with immortals is that they all the time they need to find whatever loopholes there are in your rule set.

Money, property, goodwill, information. And these are just some of the metrics which are more or less exchangeable into each other. To make sure your immortals can't game the system, you'd have to limit each and every one of these metrics, which seems hard to do.

So, my idea would be instead of trying to build a system, make the reason why they can't dominate something biological, and therefore out of control. Many of such limitations were already mentioned: Naivety, memory loss, decreasing learning speed, dulling emotions.

My suggestion would be synchronized, generation long hibernation. To regenerate their bodies, the immortals need to go into a deep slumber. So, every ~30 years, they feel the deep drowsiness coming, which lasts one or multiple generations. They all do it at the same time, forced by some global trigger.
(Depending on how realistic you want the hibernation to be, you'll have to use some kind of variation).

Hibernation this long means almost everything they have in society will be gone - properties redistributed, money confiscated, information obsolete and goodwill withered. Even worse: If you have angered the people, it is now their chance at payback, and there's little what you can do about it. After all, even if you employ mortals, what reason do they have to do their job? You can't punish them for breaking a contract, and there's little hope that their goodwill lasts multiple generations. Your best bet would be entrusting your safety to other immortals … but those are all asleep as well.

$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

Even with modern medicine and much better life style, it is very likely these people will live on average 300 years. There was a calculation about this but I don't remember where I saw it. The number was even lower, but lets round it to nearest 100. Living 5 times longer (excluding childhood) than average person will help them to accumulate wealth and knowledge, but they will probably not be as rich as the richest people. Some answers mention wealthy families, it is very unlikely for these individuals to get that far, even though they have a better chance. Remember these families start with a lucky or brilliant event that makes them rich at the start and they keep accumulating wealth by using the wealth. They represent less than 1 in a million of the population, since the immortals are rare too, chance of a very rich immortal getting extremely rich is of a very low chance. And the ones they do, will die one day, and their riches will be split to 100's of grand grand kids.

There are two exceptions though. If immortals have immortal children, %1 will raise to 100% in a few millennia. If immortals are there and no new ones are born, they will be extinct in a millennia or so.

$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

I propose two solutions to the question that are quite different:

The immortals want to be Monastic Archivists

For ethical reasons they don't believe in money.

Perhaps in the past, some immortals did become filthy rich, and the elite immortals became so corrupt and unbalanced that a schism or revolutionary purging was required. The surviving group was not the wealthy immortals, but the ones who wanted to guide society on a spiritual path rather than gaining wealth. An interesting implication of being immortal is they would remember the history of bloody cultural revolutions and never want to go through it again. This might lead to a much stronger belief. What they believe holds value could be something other than money: maybe passing on their unique knowledge, experiences, and memories.

There are historical or real societies like this. It is possible they are like Tibetan buddhists, walling themselves up in remote Abbies and living communally in their own marketplace, or more like Menonite farmers, trying to push back the hands of time? Some modern day Abbies function as museums, vineyards, and breweries, co-operatively saving away money for the institution, but the individual monks don't live a lavish lifestyle.

I can see how being immortal might eventually renounce materialism, because they have seen governments and powerful rich mortals come and go.

Immortals are a hunted endangered species

There is an explanation why the immortals haven't proliferated and become Humans 2.0.

This is a variation of the "Everybody Hates them" scenario, in which the immortals are the victims of discrimation, the minority victims of brutal hunting. Their lack of wealth might be the result of common conspiracy theories about them, genocides, and unethical scientific experiments.

In this scenario, the immortals are still endangered despite their lifespan. Perhaps little is known about their regenerative abilities, and some bad actors are still holding them captive in labs, illegally attempting to dissect them for research, or harvest their organs to sell as medical transplants. In this scenario,some liberal governments and groups would be more benign than others, granting immortals asylum, and legally protecting them, or even trying to negotiate restitution for them.

$\endgroup$

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .