Re: Premature deaths [was: extropians-digest V7 #4]

From: Robert J. Bradbury (
Date: Sat Jan 12 2002 - 06:18:45 MST

Commenting on my post suggesting that extropians not distinguish between
passive and active death inducing causes, wrote:

> No, there's an important distinction - you can fix problems due
> to passive deathists without changing those people.

Hardly. Think of the resistance people have to wearing seat belts
or ceasing smoking. It is very difficult to eliminate accidental
(or "natural") deaths without changing the environment so it is inherently
safer (or changing individual lifestyles). You have to force people to
pay for and adapt to those changes. Think of a baby-gate to protect a
child from going someplace unsafe. The adults have to change their
behavior to deal with the increased safety. In some cases people
accept this, in many cases the scream quite loudly about the
increased hassles.

> Active deathists must be stopped. They're a much more serious
> problem as you have fewer options.

Lets see. The number of deaths due to heart disease in the U.S.
are ~700,000 annually. The number of deaths due to terrorism
last year ~3000. The Y2000 the NIH budget: $17.8 billion;
the DoD budget: $281 billion,

So we have a more than > 200:1 ratio in deaths and a 1:15 ratio
in funding to combat such deaths. Now of course this isn't
really correct since we have no way of knowing the number of
deaths if our defense spending weren't so high but at the
same time only a sub-fraction of the NIH budget is allocated
to deal with heart disease (perhaps something like 15-20%).

I suspect one could get better figures by taking countries that
do have terrorist problems, e.g. Spain or England, figure out the
percentage of GDP they dedicate to defense, scale that up
to the U.S. GDP and determine how much we are spending on
defense over what other countries spend (if any).

If we are overspending on defense, then one could argue that
our marginal dollars would be better served by being dedicated
to the battle of the passive deaths of "heart disease" rather
than the active deaths caused by terrorists or other military

> In addition, humans are very nasty enemies as they
> are hard to stop with simple measures like dams, frame houses, etc.

No argument. But aging is equally hard to stop. If you are spending
more to stop humans relative to what you are spending to stop aging
then I would argue you are spending your resources inefficiently.

Now of course to really do this analysis properly, one would
have to account for Years of Potential Life Lost from terrorist
acts vs. various diseases, account for the years saved by each $
spent on defense vs. health care and compute the marginal benefit
of additional $ spent on defense vs. health care. It might
well be that additional $ spent on defense are providing
more benefit than additional $ spent on health -- because aging
*is* such a hard problem to solve -- but given the ratios I
cite above, it seems that more attention should be given to
determining whether that is really the case.


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