Value of Long Lives (Was: What is the best place ...)

From: Robin Hanson (
Date: Fri Jun 23 2000 - 11:01:35 MDT

Hal Finney wrote:
>A counterargument could be that we have hope and faith that our lives
>won't just be getting longer, but they will be getting better. We will
>be able to improve ourselves, to broaden and deepen our minds, to enhance
>our bodies far beyond the limitations we face today. If you combine
>infinite life with infinitely expanding quality of life, then you could
>argue that this expectation would have a truly infinite value today.
>In that case you could justify any sacrifice in order to increase your
>chances of experiencing that possibility.

In principle you could have the utility of a life year increasing
exponentially while the time discount factor was a decreasing exponential.
If the growth rate in quality of life was faster than the discount rate,
the total integral over an infinite future would diverge.

For the last half century or so, per capita wealth growth rates have
been near plausible discount rates. But for this go produce the above
scenario you'd have to be nearly risk-neutral, so that doubling your
income nearly doubled your utility. For someone with a log utility
of income, on the other hand, the discounting would clearly overwhelm
the increase in income.

Robin Hanson
Asst. Prof. Economics, George Mason University
MSN 1D3, Carow Hall, Fairfax VA 22030
703-993-2326 FAX: 703-993-2323

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