Sunday, August 21, 2011

Would you pay an extra 30% income tax to be young forever?

This is a real choice. Let me explain. First, three facts:

1. Your life expectancy increases by more than two months every year.

Last year you got a year older, but people made better medicines that made you feel 2.5 months younger, so it's as if you only got 9.5 month older. Every year, people make better pills, MRI machines, etc.

2. Less than 3% of what you spend every year goes to research.

Sources such as Wikipedia and OECD agree that science funding averages around 2.7% of GDP in the USA. 2.7% of $47,000 (average yearly income in the USA) is $1,200. Most of this is spent on military research projects. Medical research alone is less than 1% of GDP (less than $100 billion out of $11.4 trillion in 2003), or about 1% of $47,000: $470 per person per year. For comparison, per capita military spending is over $2,000 per person per year.

3. Buying research = buying better medicine.

It's clear: to invent better medicines, people have to do science. New drugs or treatment discovered in lab testing must go through the clinical trial process at a cost of tens of millions of dollars to make sure you get only medicines that are safe and work well.

New drugs that cost a lot to invent can be cheap to make. For example, antiretroviral drugs -- pills that someone with AIDS need to stay alive -- were discovered only after billions of dollars were spent on research. But, once the formula was discovered, the drug was cheap to make: less than $300 for a year's dose. Research also discover cheaper and better alternatives to current drugs, leading to better medical care for less money.

Let's put these facts together: data says 10x science funding reverses aging?

Current spending (2.7% of GDP on science) leads to to better drugs and healthier people, at a rate equal to about 2.5 months per year. What would happen if we spent ten times as much on science? There would be the same number of doctors as there are now, but there would be ten times as many scientists working on better medicines and other tools for the doctors to use. There would be ten times as many clinical trials being carried out, and ten times as many new treatments discovered every year, giving your doctors the tools to make you feel younger. Instead of feeling 2.5 months younger due to medicine and a year older from the passing of time (a total of feeling 9.5 months older), you would feel 2 years younger due to new medicines and 1 year older from the passing of time, for a total of feeling 1 year younger. Again, if enough money is spent on science every year, then you will feel younger, not older, as time passes.

Imagine, with ten times as many new drugs being discovered, much faster progress toward the treatments you want now: not only things like new pain-free joints for your parents, but better treatments for baldness, tiredness, and sagging skin. Imagine the freedom of being able to stay young longer, have healthy children later, and having all the time you need to build the life you want. That's what I imagine and hope for.

Would you give 30% of your income to fund more science, if everyone else did too?

Current science funding is less than 3% of GDP. Increasing science funding by 10x to 30% of GDP would double taxes, as current taxes are about 27% of GDP. Again, you would pay twice as much in taxes, and end up with about half as much take-home pay at the end of the day, assuming the same tax rates as right now. You would have to live more cheaply and give up many luxuries. On the other hand, you would look and feel younger, not older, as time passed.

I would gladly pay this price -- I'm slowly getting fatter and balder, and I wish I had more time while I'm young to be a better friend, lover or relative for people I care about, and more time to become an artist at my job. I would be happy to sell my car and live in a smaller apartment if doing so would buy cures for baldness and heart disease.

But, I can't do this alone. If I tried, and gave away half my income to medical research, I could pay for only one inexperienced lab technician or one-quarter of an experienced researcher's time, which would make little difference. Even if I became a scientist, I could solve at most one or two hard problems during my career, but my friends and I would still get old. I need you.

Please help! Leave a comment saying that you would give away half your income if you could stay young forever, and tell me what I should do next.

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