During the recent Longevity and Cryopreservation Summit in Madrid, LEAF board member Paul Spiegel discussed the social ramifications of increased lifespans thanks to emerging technologies. He spoke of the need for society to adapt to deal with longer lives. We invite you to watch the talk he gave and also to read an interview providing deeper insight on the necessary changes in the pension system.
But first, a few words about Paul. Paul graduated cum laude from the University of California, Berkeley in 1979 and from Boalt Hall School of Law in 1983. He has attended Harvard Law School, the University of Paris, Sorbonne, and International Christian University in Tokyo.
Trained in international business law, he worked on Wall Street, on Montgomery Street, and in Tokyo before entering private practice in IP, business, and entertainment law in San Francisco.
Paul sits on the Board of Directors of LEAF, the International Longevity Alliance, and the American Longevity Alliance, and is an advisor to the Lifeboat Foundation. An ardent transhumanist, he is a member of Humanity+ and carboncopies. During the last decade, Paul provided his professional legal advice to many pro-longevity organizations around the world, including SENS Research Foundation, and he is warmly welcomed by life extensionist communities in many countries.
Hello Paul, thank you for taking the time to talk to us about the ways our society should adapt to survive in this coming era of longevity. First, let’s talk about the current pension system and remind our readers, how it was first formed, and what was typical life course and life expectancy back then?
The concept of public pensions as we presently know them in the U.S. and Europe first began to take hold in the period between the two World Wars. In particular, in the U.S., the Roosevelt administration promoted the concept of Social Security, while various European countries pursued similar programs. The Second World War interrupted the normal development of these systems.
After the War, sanitation and medicine improved dramatically, which dramatically extended life expectancy. Unfortunately, the retirement age, set in the pre-War era, remained the same.
Our life expectancy has increased significantly since then and the governments had to adapt to this changing situation. How has the retirement age in the US changed in the last 30 years?
Originally, the United States set the retirement age at 65, an age that most workers were never expected to reach. Over the last thirty years, we have broadened the system. Workers become eligible to collect Social Security at age 60. However, economic incentives discourage them from collecting payments at that age. Benefits increase on a sliding scale according to age. To receive maximum retirement benefits, a worker needs to defer collecting them until age 70.
Some countries have had to introduce limitations on working age, like China. To our ears, it sounds somewhat wrong to stop people from participating in social and economic development. What do you think about such limitations?
People should be allowed to contribute to society for as long as they are able. It is silly to prohibit people from making meaningful contributions simply for the same of “making room” for younger workers. Following that line of reasoning, you might as well encourage them to die and, as Charles Dickens suggested, “decrease the surplus population”. Better we should increase the ways to help people remain productive members of society.
Do you believe that one of the good ways to spend an extremely long life is to work? Some people might disagree. After all, we all need to make breaks sometimes, to rest and think if we would like to change the direction of our lives. How can we ensure this very long working period would be balanced with an appropriate amount of personal time?
Work is a fine way to spend one’s time. Most people find meaningful work to be highly rewarding, and not just monetarily. It is good for self-esteem and established a foundation of self-worth. Of course, people will need to be productive members of society, at least until they achieve economic critical mass and no longer need to produce revenue to support their lives. And they may choose to do so long afterward. But we do not want to achieve indefinite healthy lifespan only to live a life of eternal servitude. Society must provide ample holidays and sabbaticals to allow for growth and personal fulfillment. We need appropriate legislation for this purpose. This is one primary objective of a new social contract.
How do you think, what steps are necessary to introduce these changes related to long working period, sabbaticals, lifelong education? Are there some steps that can already be made now to make the transition more smooth?
Until society recognizes the possibility of indefinite healthy lifespan, this is only a theoretical question. As the possibility becomes more apparent, we will need to establish social study groups to read the way forward. The last thing I would recommend is to leave it to governments. They tend to make a mess of long-term thinking.
Last question. Modern science might potentially be able to increase lifespan by some hundreds of years. How would you spend your very long and healthy life? What would you fill it with?
Once I had reached an economic critical mass, I would live a life of public service, using the accumulated wisdom of many years to create benefit for others. And of course, from time to time, I would take a nice holiday on the beach.