If biologists could have done for the dictators of the 20th century what they can now do for roundworms and flies — double their life span — then Mao Zedong might still be alive
Most people, like Mao, give it their best and are better off dead after 90 years. After that, they merely say the same things, and keep others from saying new things via their cult of personality. Further, people who are powerful at 83 tend to be evil, so mortality is especially useful for battling tyranny.
I like life, can't imagine being dead, and especially will miss not being able to share experiences with my children, and help them as best I can. I have no reason to believe in an afterlife, which many find reason to fight for more life at any expense. Yet, the thought of immortality really pains me. I see so many people develop a personality that after a while converges on some big idea, some routine in thought and behavior, it becomes not merely unhelpful to the world, but boring for the person and every thinking person around him. I rather respect the view of William F. Buckley, who not long before dying, said he was tired and didn't care to live much more. As Richard P. Feynman noted, he didn't feel like dying would be the end of him, because he has created so many memes, he would still be alive. That's a good attitude. During his death, proximally caused by kidney failure, his last words were 'I'd hate to die twice. It's so boring'.
I was reminded of this last weekend reading a couple of Reagan era bigshots discussing their big ideas. First, David Stockman had a Sunday NYTimes op-ed decrying Republican hypocrisy for not enthusiastically raising tax rates on the wealthy. Stockman became famous after a December 1981 Atlantic Monthly article, "The Education of David Stockman", based on lengthy interviews with famous liberal financial reporter William Greider. In it he pronounced great skepticism of supply side economics (lower taxes--> higher revenues). Clearly, his big idea is unchanged.
On the other side, Arthur Laffer, the guy who promoted supply side economics by showing, on a cocktail napkin, that theoretically at some point a higher tax rate implies a lower tax revenues by virtue of their boundary conditions, also had a prominent WSJ op-ed. In it, he said raising taxes would hurt the economy and tax revenues, just as he said in 1980.
Since 1980 total tax revenue as a percent of the US economy, has risen and then fallen to its 1980 level, while marginal tax rates have fallen for both income and capital gains. Total spending, meanwhile, is at record peacetime levels as a percent of GDP. Given the various Democrats and Republicans in charge of the White House or Congress, and business cycles, the cause and effect is not obvious. But clearly 30 years later, we are spending more, and government is getting about the same total vig at lower marginal rates.
Now, I tend like simple proofs and so a demonstration on a cocktail napkin is impressive, but that's besides the point. They both have had their say and they've said it. Thirty years after the fact, it is still the their only big insight that gets them top billing in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. I am sure it will be in the second paragraph of their obituaries. We don't need another 900 years of that. They themselves will become bored saying it. Best to move on, let others reformulate their argument, and say it better or not at all.
I guess my big idea--one I've been told is wrong, obvious, and for a time, illegal--is that risk, however defined, does not beget higher returns--on average or rationally expected. I know the academy doesn't want to hear it, but also I don't want to say it over and over. Maybe, I'll come back as a bug and experience some unexpected pleasure by hearing someone proved my assertion using the Taniyama-Shimura conjecture (proven by Andrew Wiles), giving the faux-rigor that economic assertions need to influence academics.