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U.S. Transhumanist Party Discussion Panel on Life Extension – February 18, 2017

U.S. Transhumanist Party Discussion Panel on Life Extension – February 18, 2017

 

The New Renaissance Hat

Listen to and download the audio recording of this panel discussion at http://rationalargumentator.com/USTP_Life_Extension_Panel.mp3 (right-click to download).

For its second expert panel, the U.S. Transhumanist Party invited Bill Andrews, Aubrey de Grey, Ira Pastor, and Ilia Stambler to discuss life extension and the quest to reverse biological aging through science and technology.

This two-hour panel discussion, moderated by Chairman Gennady Stolyarov II, took place on Saturday, February 18, 2017, at 10 a.m. U.S. Pacific Time. In this interactive venue, many opportunities for fresh discourse arose on the possibility of achieving dramatically greater longevity within our lifetimes. The substance of the discussion begins at 4:25 in the recording.

Questions the panelists considered include the following:

(i) How would you characterize the current state of efforts to reverse senescence / lengthen human lifespans?
(ii) How does progress in the areas of research you have delved into compare to your expectations approximately 10 to 15 years ago?
(iii) What are the most significant challenges and obstacles that you perceive to exist in the way of achieving serious reversal of biological aging?
(iv) What key technologies and methods of delivering treatments to patients would need to be developed in order for longevity escape velocity to be affordably achieved society-wide?
(v) What political reforms and societal / attitudinal changes would you advocate to accelerate the arrival of effective treatments to reverse biological aging and lengthen lifespans?
(vi) Are you concerned about any current political trends and how they might affect the progress of research into combating biological aging?
(vii) What can laypersons who are sympathetic to your goals do in order to hasten their realization? How can the effort to defeat aging become as popular and widely supported as efforts to defeat cancer and ALS are today?
(viii) What lessons can the history of anti-aging research offer to those who seek to advocate and help achieve effective scientific breakthroughs in this area in the coming years and decades?

Become a member of the U.S. Transhumanist Party for free. Apply here.

References

Genetic stabilization of transthyretin, cerebrovascular disease, and life expectancy” – Paper by Louise S. Hornstrup, Ruth Frikke-Schmidt, Børge G. Nordestgaard and Anne Tybjærg-Hansen. Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology. 2013;33:1441-1447, Originally published May 15, 2013.

Recognizing Degenerative Aging as a Treatable Medical Condition: Methodology and Policy” – Paper by Ilia Stambler. Aging and Disease.

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Panelists

Dr. Bill Andrews is the President and CEO of Sierra Sciences – http://www.sierrasci.com/. As a scientist, athlete, and executive, he continually pushes the envelope and challenges convention. In his 35-year biotech career, he has focused the last 23 years on finding ways to extend the human lifespan and healthspan through telomere maintenance. As one of the principal discoverers of both the RNA and protein components of human telomerase, Dr. Andrews was awarded 2nd place as “National Inventor of the Year” in 1997.

Dr. Aubrey de Grey is the biomedical gerontologist who researched the idea for and founded SENS Research Foundation – http://www.sens.org/. He received his BA in Computer Science and Ph.D. in Biology from the University of Cambridge in 1985 and 2000, respectively. Dr. de Grey is Editor-in-Chief of Rejuvenation Research, is a Fellow of both the Gerontological Society of America and the American Aging Association, and sits on the editorial and scientific advisory boards of numerous journals and organizations.

Ira Pastor has 30 years of experience across multiple sectors of the pharmaceutical industry, including pharmaceutical commercialization, biotech drug development, managed care, distribution, OTC, and retail. He is the CEO of BioQuark, Inc. – http://www.bioquark.com/ – and Executive Chairman of ReAnima Advanced Biosciences – https://reanima.tech/.

Dr. Ilia Stambler is a researcher at Bar Ilan University, Israel. His research focuses on the historical and social implications of aging and life-extension research. He is the author of A History of Life-extensionism in the Twentieth Century – www.longevityhistory.com. He is actively involved in advocacy for aging and longevity research – www.longevityforall.org.

The Good Old Days of Poverty and Filth – Article by Sarah Skwire

The Good Old Days of Poverty and Filth – Article by Sarah Skwire

The New Renaissance HatSarah Skwire
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A Cultural Historian Decries Profit and Progress

Standing in a luxury hotel, cultural historian Luc Sante daydreams about the good old days of homeless alcoholics lighting trash fires in the streets of Manhattan’s Skid Row.

“Over there, next to the flophouse hotel,” Sante reminisced to the Guardian, “is where Nan Goldin lived and worked. Forty years ago there were still lots of vacant lofts here that had been burlesque and vaudeville theatres during the era when storefronts were saloons. There were bars solely inhabited by bums, their heads down on the counter. At night they’d be lined up outside the missions and Salvation Army hostels — veterans from World War Two, from the Korean War, from the Vietnam War. At night, trash fires would be lit in oil drums.”

The French have an elegant phrase for what Sante is doing. They call it nostalgie de la boue, “longing for the mud,” which means a romantic yearning for a primitive or degraded behavior or condition.

The phrase, which was coined by a French dramatist in 1855, has been around for a while and usefully describes the very real way in which the wealthier and healthier inhabitants of modernity look back at the past through a misty, romantic haze.

While it annoys historians when we put a soft-focus filter on history, it doesn’t generally do a lot of damage. We don’t need every medieval romance novel to remind us that the heroine’s breath didn’t smell like cool mint Listerine. It’s probably for the best that the historical re-enactors at Colonial Williamsburg don’t actually use authentic colonial medical remedies for their health problems, and visiting tourists are certainly grateful for modern plumbing and street sanitation. Even the BBC’s determinedly authentic 1900 House had a phone and modern fire protection in case of emergencies.

Any lover of history will occasionally find him or herself dreaming about attending a performance in the pit at Shakespeare’s Globe, or roughing it in the saloons and shacks of a gold rush town. Some of us may even have recently spent an entranced hour or two playing with the Victoria and Albert Museum’s “Design-a-Wig” website. But a good student of history will acknowledge that the Globe was undoubtedly loud, smelly, crowded, and occasionally even dangerous for playgoers. And the rugged romance of the gold rush town is offset by the knowledge that you were probably far more likely to die of gangrene or cholera than you were to strike it even moderately rich. And those glorious 18th-century wigs? Heavy, hot, smelly, and prone to harboring bugs.

But a real case of nostalgie de la boue goes further than the soft-focus filter that ignores the unpleasantness of the past. Rather than ignoring the historical “mud,” nostalgie de la boue actively longs for that kind of unpleasantness and insists that without it, life is less authentic, less meaningful, and altogether worse.

And that is where Luc Sante seems to be. While he is quite correct to note that the ribaldry of Paris has long been a desirable antidote to the humorless Puritanism of American cities, Sante goes entirely off the rails when he insists that his praise for the “materially poor but … imaginatively free and creatively rich” inhabitants of Paris is not a romantic vision.

According to Sante, people ask him, “How can you be promoting the life of the poor in the 19th century when so many of them didn’t eat every day?”

Sante concedes, “Well yeah, it’s bad, but is it really any worse than the situation today when everybody’s fed but you have an incredible percentage of New Yorkers who live in the shelter system – including people who have regular jobs?”

The horrors of the shelter system aside, there’s a great deal to be said for a world where more and more people are fed better every year, and my guess is that a great number of the imaginatively free Parisians that Sante dreams of would have enjoyed the occasional extra baguette. It is possible to value historical creativity and intellectual independence without also having to praise historical dietary deficits. (And it is worth noting, should Sante happen to read this, that the feeding of all those extra people is not due entirely, or even primarily, to “the shelter system.” It’s the market economy and all that goes with it that is making the world better fed every year.)

Sante continues his nostalgia for the mud when he argues, “In the Paris I write about, people ran businesses to make a living, not to make a profit. Cafes, bars: they’re no longer public institutions or part of a community. There’s no possibility for eccentric self-determination amongst the shopkeepers.”

The distinction Sante draws between “making a living” and “making a profit” is not particularly clear to me. It suggests, perhaps, an unstated assumption that there is such a thing as an agreed-upon “correct” amount of profit for a business or businessperson to make — beyond which all profit becomes filthy lucre. Possibly he is making an equally indefensible assumption that businesspeople in the past weren’t interested in being as successful as they could be and that it is only our postmodern cynicism that has unleashed the drive for profit.

Maybe Sante means to say that unlike today’s businesses, the businesses of years ago “made a living” by helping to create a community among their customers rather than just “making a profit” by selling stuff. I think that thousands of today’s small business owners and their Facebook pages, Etsy stores, and farmer’s market stands would beg to differ with his assessment of their importance to their communities.

There’s not necessarily always a problem with nostalgie de la boue. It’s how we got Peaky Blinders, the renewed interest in home canning, restaurants that serve bone marrow, and the great revival of folk music spurred by O Brother Where Art Thou?, after all.

Sante, though, has so much mud in his eyes that he is blind to the tangible and important progress that has been made in human wealth and welfare. His mucky nostalgia leads him to claim that our increasing wealth — which has given us more health, more discretionary income, more food, and more free time — is a danger more pernicious than terrorism. “Money, for me, may not immediately kill people in the way terrorism does, but it does certainly change the fabric of daily life in much deeper and more insidious ways.”

That is a statement of such offensive ignorance that it could only be made by a man standing high above the former Skid Row, looking down through glass, with room service and maid service only a phone call away. I wonder if the men and women in the photographs that Sante treasures would have said the same?

Sarah Skwire is the poetry editor of the Freeman and a senior fellow at Liberty Fund, Inc. She is a poet and author of the writing textbook Writing with a Thesis. She is a member of the FEE Faculty Network.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

Socialism Is War and War Is Socialism – Both Forms of Central Planning Are Reactionary, Not Progressive – Article by Steven Horwitz

Socialism Is War and War Is Socialism – Both Forms of Central Planning Are Reactionary, Not Progressive – Article by Steven Horwitz

The New Renaissance Hat
Steven Horwitz
June 10, 2015
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“[Economic] planning does not accidentally deteriorate into the militarization of the economy; it is the militarization of the economy.… When the story of the Left is seen in this light, the idea of economic planning begins to appear not only accidentally but inherently reactionary. The theory of planning was, from its inception, modeled after feudal and militaristic organizations. Elements of the Left tried to transform it into a radical program, to fit into a progressive revolutionary vision. But it doesn’t fit. Attempts to implement this theory invariably reveal its true nature. The practice of planning is nothing but the militarization of the economy.”

—Don Lavoie, National Economic Planning: What Is Left?

Libertarians have long confounded our liberal and conservative friends by being both strongly in favor of free markets and strongly opposed to militarism and foreign intervention. In the conventional world of “right” and “left,” this combination makes no sense. Libertarians are often quick to point out the ways in which free trade, both within and across national borders, creates cooperative interdependencies among those who trade, thereby reducing the likelihood of war. The long classical liberal tradition is full of those who saw the connection between free trade and peace.

But there’s another side to the story, which is that socialism and economic planning have a long and close connection with war and militarization.

As Don Lavoie argues at length in his wonderful and underappreciated 1985 book National Economic Planning: What Is Left?, any attempt to substitute economic planning (whether comprehensive and central or piecemeal and decentralized) for markets inevitably ends up militarizing and regimenting the society. Lavoie points out that this outcome was not an accident. Much of the literature defending economic planning worked from a militaristic model. The “success” of economic planning associated with World War I provided early 20th century planners with a specific historical model from which to operate.

This connection should not surprise those who understand the idea of the market as a spontaneous order. As good economists from Adam Smith to F.A. Hayek and beyond have appreciated, markets are the products of human action but not human design. No one can consciously direct an economy. In fact, Hayek in particular argued that this is true not just of the economy, but of society in general: advanced commercial societies are spontaneous orders along many dimensions.

Market economies have no purpose of their own, or as Hayek put it, they are “ends-independent.” Markets are simply means by which people come together to pursue the various ends that each person or group has. You and I don’t have to agree on which goals are more or less important in order to participate in the market.

The same is true of other spontaneous orders. Consider language. We can both use English to construct sentences even if we wish to communicate different, or contradictory, things with the language.

One implication of seeing the economy as a spontaneous order is that it lacks a “collective purpose.” There is no single scale of values that guides us as a whole, and there is no process by which resources, including human resources, can be marshaled toward those collective purposes.

The absence of such a collective purpose or common scale of values is one factor that explains the connection between war and socialism. They share a desire to remake the spontaneous order of society into an organization with a single scale of values, or a specific purpose. In a war, the overarching goal of defeating the enemy obliterates the ends-independence of the market and requires that hierarchical control be exercised in order to direct resources toward the collective purpose of winning the war.

In socialism, the same holds true. To substitute economic planning for the market is to reorganize the economy to have a single set of ends that guides the planners as they allocate resources. Rather than being connected with each other by a shared set of means, as in private property, contracts, and market exchange, planning connects people by a shared set of ends. Inevitably, this will lead to hierarchy and militarization, because those ends require trying to force people to behave in ways that contribute to the ends’ realization. And as Hayek noted in The Road to Serfdom, it will also lead to government using propaganda to convince the public to share a set of values associated with some ends. We see this tactic in both war and socialism.

As Hayek also pointed out, this is an atavistic desire. It is a way for us to try to recapture the world of our evolutionary past, where we existed in small, homogeneous groups in which hierarchical organization with a common purpose was possible. Deep in our moral instincts is a desire to have the solidarity of a common purpose and to organize resources in a way that enables us to achieve it.

Socialism and war appeal to so many because they tap into an evolved desire to be part of a social order that looks like an extended family: the clan or tribe. Soldiers are not called “bands of brothers” and socialists don’t speak of “a brotherhood of man” by accident. Both groups use the same metaphor because it works. We are susceptible to it because most of our history as human beings was in bands of kin that were largely organized in this way.

Our desire for solidarity is also why calls for central planning on a smaller scale have often tried to claim their cause as the moral equivalent of war. This is true on both the left and right. We have had the War on Poverty, the War on Drugs, and the War on Terror, among others. And we are “fighting,” “combating,” and otherwise at war with our supposedly changing climate — not to mention those thought to be responsible for that change. The war metaphor is the siren song of those who would substitute hierarchy and militarism for decentralized power and peaceful interaction.

Both socialism and war are reactionary, not progressive. They are longings for an evolutionary past long gone, and one in which humans lived lives that were far worse than those we live today. Truly progressive thinking recognizes the limits of humanity’s ability to consciously construct and control the social world. It is humble in seeing how social norms, rules, and institutions that we did not consciously construct enable us to coordinate the actions of billions of anonymous actors in ways that enable them to create incredible complexity, prosperity, and peace.

The right and left do not realize that they are both making the same error. Libertarians understand that the shared processes of spontaneous orders like language and the market can enable all of us to achieve many of our individual desires without any of us dictating those values for others. By contrast, the right and left share a desire to impose their own sets of values on all of us and thereby fashion the world in their own images.

No wonder they don’t understand us.

Steven Horwitz is the Charles A. Dana Professor of Economics at St. Lawrence University and the author of Microfoundations and Macroeconomics: An Austrian Perspective, now in paperback.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

A Portrait of the Classical Gold Standard – Article by Marcia Christoff-Kurapovna

A Portrait of the Classical Gold Standard – Article by Marcia Christoff-Kurapovna

The New Renaissance Hat
Marcia Christoff-Kurapovna
April 15, 2015
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“The world that disappeared in 1914 appeared, in retrospect, something like our picture of Paradise,” wrote the economist Cecil Hirsch in his June 1934 review of R.W. Hawtrey’s classic, The Art of Central Banking (1933). Hirsch bemoaned the loss of the far-sighted restraint that had once prevailed among the “bankers’ banks” of the West, concluding that modern times “had failed to attain the standard of wisdom and foresight that prevailed in the 19th century.”That wisdom and foresight was once upon a time institutionalized throughout an international monetary culture — gold-based, wary of credit, and contemptuous of debt, public or private. This world included central banks including the Bank of England, the Bank of France, the Swiss National Bank, the early Federal Reserve, the Imperial Bank of Austria-Hungary, and the German Reichsbank. But the entrenched hard-money ideology of the time restrained all of them. The Bank of Russia, for example, which once required 50 percent to 100 percent gold backing of all notes issued, possessed the second largest gold reserves on the planet at the turn of the twentieth century.

“The countries that were tied together in the gold standard system represented to a not inconsiderable degree a community of interest in and responsibility for the maintenance of economic and financial stability throughout the world,” recounted Aldoph C. Miller, member of the Federal Reserve Board from 1914 to 1936, in The Proceedings of the Academy of Political Science, in May 1936. “The gold standard was the one outstanding symbol of unity and economic solidarity which the nineteenth century world had developed.”

It was a time when “automatic market forces,” as economists of the day referred to them, prevailed over monetary management. Redeemability of money in (fine) gold ensured, within limits, stability in foreign exchange rates. Credit was extended only as far as reserve ratios would allow, and central banks were required to keep fixed reserves of gold against notes-in-circulation and against demand deposits.

When Markets Dominated Monetary “Policy”

Gold flows regulated international price relationships through markets, which adjusted themselves accordingly: prices rose when there was an influx of gold — for example, when one country received a debt payment from another country (always in gold), or during such times as the California or Australian gold rushes of the 1870s. These inflows meant credit expansion and a rise in prices. An outflow of gold meant credit was contracted and price deflation followed.

The efficiency of that standard was not impeded by the major central banks in such a way that “any disturbance of economic or financial character originating at any point in the world which might threaten the continued maintenance of economic equilibrium was quickly detected by foreign exchanges,” Miller, the Federal Reserve board member, noted in his paper. “In this way, the gold standard system became in a very real sense a regime or rule of economic health, a method of catching economic disturbances in the bud.”

The Bank of England, the grand master of them all, was the financial center of the universe, whose tight handle on its credit policies was so disciplined that the secured the top spot while not even holding the largest gold reserves. Consistent in its belief that protection of reserves was the chief, and only important, criterion of credit policy, England became the leading exporter of capital, the free market for gold, the international discount market, and international banker for the trade of other countries, as well as her own. The world was in this sense on the sterling standard.

The Bank of France, wisely admonished by its founder, Napoleon, to make sure France was always a creditor country, was so replete with reserves it made England a 500 million franc loan (in 1915 numbers) at the onset of the World War I. Switzerland, perhaps the last “19th-century-style” hold-out today with unlimited-liability private bankers and strict debt-ceiling legislation, also required high standards of its National Bank, founded in 1907. By the 1930s that country had higher banking reserves than the US; the Swiss franc was never explicitly devalued, unlike nearly every other Western nation’s currency, and the country’s domestic price level remained the most stable in the world.

For a time, the disciplined mindset of these banks found its way across the Atlantic, where the idea of a central bank had been long the subject of hot debate in the US. The economist H. Parker Willis, writing about the controversy in The Journal of the Proceedings of the Academy of Political Science, October 1913, admonished: “The Federal Reserve banks are to be ‘bankers’ banks,’ and they are intended to do for the banker what he himself does for the public.”

At first, the advice was heeded: in September 1916, almost two years after its founding on December 23,1913, the fledgling Fed worked out an amendment to its gold policy on the basis of a very conservative view of credit. This new policy sought to restrain “the undue and unnecessary expansion of credit,” wrote Fed board member Miller, in an article for The American Economic Review, in June 1921.

The Bank of Russia, during the second half of the nineteenth century steered itself through the Crimean War, the Russo-Turkish War, the Russo-Japanese War, impending Balkan wars — not to mention all that was to follow — and managed to emerge with sound fiscal policies and massive gold reserves. According to The Economist of May 20, 1899, Russian holdings were 95 million pounds sterling of gold, while the Bank of France held 78 million sterling worth. (Austria-Hungary held 30 million sterling worth of gold and the Bank of England 30 million sterling worth of both gold and silver.) “Russia up to the very moment of rupture [with Japan, 1904–1905], was working imperturbably at the progressive consolidation of her finances,” reported Karl Helfferich of the University of Berlin, at a meeting of The Royal Economic Society [UK] in December 1904. “Even in years of industrial crises and defective harvest, her foreign trade showed an excess of exports over imports more than sufficient to compensate payments sent abroad. And, as guarantee her monetary system she has succeeded in a amassing and maintaining a vast reserve of gold.”

These banks, in turn, drew on the medieval/Renaissance and Baroque-era banking traditions of the Hanseatic League, the Bank of Venice, and Amsterdam banks. Payment-on-demand “in good and heavy gold” was like a blood-oath binding the banker-client relationship. The transfer of credit “did not arise from any such substitution of credit for money,” noted Charles F. Dunbar, in The Quarterly Journal of Economics of April 1892, “but from the simple fact that the transfer in-bank saved the necessity of counting coin and manual delivery of every transaction.”

Bankers were forbidden to deal in certain commodities, could not make loans or create credit for the purchase of such commodities, and forbade both foreigners and citizens from buying silver on credit unless the same amount in cash was in the bank. According to Dunbar, a Venetian law of 1403 on reserve requirements became the basis of US banking law on the deposits of public securities in the late 1800s.

After the fall of bi-metallism in the 1870s, gold continued to perform monetary functions among the main countries of the Western world (and the well-administered Bank of Japan). It was the only medium of exchange and the only currency with unrestricted legal tender. It became the vaunted “measure of value.” Bank currency notes were simply used as auxiliary to gold and, in general, did not enjoy the privilege of legal tender.

The End of An Era

It was certainly not a flawless system, or without periodic crises. But central banks had to act in an exceptionally prudent manner given the all-over public distrust of paper money.

As economist Andrew Jay Frame of the University of Chicago, writing in The Journal of Political Economy, in January 1912, noted: “During panics in Britain in 1847 and 1866, when cash payments were suspended, the floodgates of cash were opened [by The Bank of England], the governor sent word to the street that solvent banks would be accommodated, and the panic was relieved.” Frame then adds: “However, this extra cash and the increased loans that went with it were very quickly put to an end to avoid credit expansion.”

The US was equally confident of its prudent attitude. Aldoph Miller, writing of Federal Reserve policy, remarked: “The three chief elements of the policy of a central bank or system of reserve holding institutions are best disclosed in connection with the attitude towards 1) gold 2) currency 3) credit.” He noted proudly: “The federal reserve system has met [these] tests on the whole with remarkable success.”

But after World War I, a different international landscape was left behind. England had been displaced as the center of international finance; the US and France emerged as the chief post-war creditor countries. The mechanism of the gold standard to which depreciated currencies could be related no longer existed. Only the US was left with a full gold standard. England and France had a gold bullion standard and other countries (Germany, primarily) had a gold-exchange standard.

A matrix of unbalanced trade relationships began to saturate the international economy. Then, with so many foreign countries attendant upon its speculative boom, the US manipulated its own domestic credit policies to ease credit and exchange-standard controls. This eventually culminated in an international financial crisis of 1931. Under Bretton Woods (1944), the gold standard was effectively abandoned: domestic convertibility was illegal and the role of gold was very constrained in favor of the dollar.

“It was, at least in theory, simple enough in the old days,” wrote a wistful W. Randolph Burgess, head of the New York Federal Reserve, in 1938. “In the present strange new world, where the old gold portents have lost their former meaning, where is the radio beam which the central banker may follow? What is the equivalent of gold?

The men of his era and of the late nineteenth century understood the meaning of such a question and, more importantly, why it is one that must be asked. But theirs was a different world, indeed — one without “QE,” ZIRP,” or “Unknown Knowns” as fiscal policy. And there were no helicopters, either.

Marcia Christoff-Kurapovna is at work on the biography of a prominent European head of state and businessman.  Her work has appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The Economist and Foreign Affairs.

This article was originally published by the Ludwig von Mises Institute. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided full credit is given.