Friday, 6 March 2015

Medical longevity vs morphine endings....

There have been amazing advances in medical science during past few hundred years. These improved medicines, surgical techniques, specialty hospital, food and nutrients, health awareness, better living conditions, control of communicable diseases, etc have lead to substantial increases in human life expectancy especially over the past 75 years or so.

As for me, I am living on borrowed time with everyday a bonus. Am 63 today. I have to take 11 pills daily. Feel like medicated goo. Probably without this medication, I would not be here today at my laptop keyboard. During my 20s, I felt living till 50 was all that I wanted. One of the reasons was that both my Father and Grandfather passed away @ 56. Being an existentialist, felt 50 was long enough an existence more so since I had been expanding my consciousness into the cosmos and stretching time to infinity with a little help of mind-blowing herbs and natural crystals.

But with the arrival of my lovely daughter, life became busy all in giving the best one could with our incomes in terms of food, education, clothing and exposure to life. So by the time I had reached 50, she was 20 and in college. Hence the topmost thought was to live till she settled herself in life. The moment she completed her masters and started working, I gave up my job in 2005 which was I not enjoying since 2002. Now that she has a family with an adorable kid, I feel maybe now one can safely depart.

Thanks again to the wonders of modern medical science; my lifespan has extended beyond that of my Father. Being an existentialist and immensely philosophical, however, one has been ready for the exit which is the ultimate fate of mortal sentient beings for past few decades. The average lifespan in the early 1950s was about 40 or so in India. This has now improved to 66. In some advanced counties longevity has reached well above 80. Hence the moral and existential dilemma of when is the right time to leave. One should not overstay like some party goers who hang on after others have left.

Medical science has increased longevity, but at what cost. Long lives are only for the rich who can afford the right food and medicines. Society is bearing the cost of the medical research and facilities ultimately. The pharmaceutical companies are not working increasing lifespan out of any pure altruistic motive. Their major interest is profit, returns on investment and valuations. There is a complex nexus between hospitals, doctors, pharmaceutical industry, regulators, insurance companies and governments. At the cost of ruining all natural balances, the medical fraternity wants us to live forever. Soon they are going to conquer cancer and through DNA engineering humans may be able to live forever! Indeed a most frightening prospect as they will be trampling on each other for want of space!

The basic issues which are arising out of longer life spans are logistical in nature:

Firstly, pressure on the limited resources which mother earth can provide like food, energy fuel, commodities and environment. It is said that now with a population of over 7 bn, the planet is clearly overcrowded and that we need two earths to supply the increasing demands and needs of human kind. In our endeavour to provide food to the teeming billions, science has introduced GMO food which has now been proved to have serious long term health hazards including cancer.

Secondly, we have polluted the planet to stage where it has resulted in extreme climate and irreversible changes in nature. The environment has been impacted most adversely due to higher carbon emissions, energy intensive life global warming, more severe winters, hotter summers, shortage of potable water, drastic reduction in fauna and flora, decline in forest areas, melting of polar ice, rise in sea levels, and increase in incidence of floods, hurricanes and precipitation. The balance of nature has been destroyed by humankind trampling upon forests and killing animals.

Thirdly, hyper competition has reared its medusa-like hydra head. As a direct corollary of too many people and unbridled capitalism, the number of companies producing similar products, fighting for limited consumer mind space is increasing way beyond desired limits resulting in cut throat and unethical competition, wafer thin profit margins or losses, stock market manipulations, credit rater’s over-ratings for accessing debt, discounts, and sales round the year and over capacity.

Fourth, unemployment is increasing in most economies. With longer lifespan, humans need to work for more years because they do not have funds for retirement and old age and they also have the physical ability. Old and young are competing for same jobs. The old are not able to cope with the change over to a digital workspace. Their very jobs are being cannibalized by their children who are not only cheaper to hire, they are more IT savvy and have better qualifications with open minds. Unless the older people continuously reinvent themselves, their survival in the job market is at risk.

Fifth, prolonged life is often possible due to the nexus between the insurance companies, hospitals, doctors, pharmaceutical industry, and high fiscal deficit based old age care which nations can ill afford being deep in debt.

Sixth, pensions all over have become veritable time bombs, since most of the payouts are based upon pre-defined benefits. Most corporations and nations are not funded adequately to meet the pension requirements in the next few decades. Bankruptcies are looming ahead for both the private and public sectors.

Finally, the most practical problem is going to be looking after aged. There would be quantum jump in the need for old age homes, assisted living centres, hospices. As greater proportion of the population becomes physically dependent it will be a nightmare caring for their daily needs like nurses, doctors, especially for those who have alzheimer's, parkinsons with fast fading memories leading vegetable lives, requiring more than $ 20k pa for looking after, Maybe in advanced societies, they will develop robots to look after the aged! the dichotomy between the rich and the poor and similarly affluent societies and poverty stricken ones will become stark. the average ages in the rich parts will be much higher and vice versa. Gradually as we enter the age of Singularity, the robots and computers might decide kill the aged since they will be a drag on the resources!

In view of all the problems arising out of over population and aging societies, there are several solutions for ushering in a balanced steady state which would match the resources offered by mother earth. Solutions might appear bit radical, but are holistic factoring in all the conflicting constraints and work out an answer matching the requirements.

Population control measures may be practiced on a global scale. There are countries which have relatively large natural resources with low populations, while nations which are relatively low in per caput resources generally have large populations. Here there is scope for transfer of people to shrinking population ageing societies like Japan and Europe.  The aspect which is to be maintained across is the ratio of working age population to dependent population, young and old. Here the advanced economies have twin fold needs, one of augmenting highly skilled and qualified people and also labour in some advanced economies like US and Germany. In fact aging economies like Japan have resorted to robots.

Then there is the issue of reducing overall population to a sustainable steady state size from the present 7+ bn to about 5 bn. This indeed is an onerous task. Some of the solutions are:

  1. Strict population control to maximum one child per family across all nations, maybe also zero kids in some,
  2. Economic incentives for adoptions and having no kids,
  3. Emigrations to balance out population and per capita natural resource inequalities,   
  4. Cap on life for terminally ill,
  5. Legalizing euthanasia,
  6. Planned euthanasia and assisted end of life including morphine endings (or LSD end of life like Aldous Huxley),
  7. Celebrating death just like birth,      
  8. Encouraging living wills stating no hospitalization for prolonging life with support systems, assisted living in hospitals,
  9. Resorts for celebrating endings with loved ones
Some of the above may sound crazy. We need to be united across all countries living in a world with no boundaries or religion. If we want the present human civilization to last out longer, then along with all the other steps for reducing carbon emissions, simpler low energy intensive lives, reducing debt and expenditure (through equally radical measures as listed out above), maybe we can push the inevitable climate collapse and extinction a wee bit further. Some might quip: whether trying do all the above is really worth it?

It would be apt to adopt John Lennon’s “Imagine” as the anthem of our world.


Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today...

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Ecocalypse – possible post debt world scenarios

for the past 25 years, since Japan entered its long tunnel of stagflation with low interest rates, several other advanced nations as well as other economies both mid developed and emerging markets gradually followed its footsteps. Japan as the second most developed economy (even till recently) has been able to successfully survive over two decades of most searing and pioneering experience in tight rope walking on the knife edge with two disaster scenarios: between shrinking precipitously or absorbing stimulus at low rates of interest  which can fuel inflation.  

The twin specters of deflation and mounting debt are haunting Japan, Europe and a swathe of other countries in other continents. US though not in deflation is being plagued by near zero interest rates and unsustainable debt. Overall the debt plague has made killing inroads into practically all economies including China, India among major ones. Only a handful could be outside its baleful influence.

Argentina which had defaulted on its international debt in 2002, got a respite when IMF, few PE companies, etc picked up the debt. Next when the country could not service the debt, restructuring of debt was done. Then bitter court cases were fought out on whether the old loans could be repaid by new loans. Here also the judge ruled that only certain debt could be retired first, now the situation has become complex with couple of PE firms wanting to exit in London which appears to be outside the jurisdiction of the Judge’s ruling.

Now in view of the world wide phenomenon of debt, it would be really worthwhile knowing how much debt can economies absorb at near zero rates of interest.  Next question would be how much lower the rates of interest can go? Is it new era of micro interest rates? Recently even Germany issued 5 year debt at –ve rate of interest.   

Next, it would be interesting if we could forecast what could happen after a prolonged period of the above. Some of the options could be:

  1. Period of sub zero rates of interest which would lead to shrinking economies, currency crises, devaluations, imploding loans, bank runs, flight of deposits and capital, fall in asset prices…
  2. When then terms of repayment of the loans appear too onerous, there would be move for ever greening the loans. Repayment period of loans can be extended; there could moratoriums on the repayment of loans if the creditors agree. Thereafter writing off the loans. The implications of this will depend upon whether the loans are external or internal? There will always a heavy price to pay. The creditors will set tough conditions. If there is a write off, how will it accounted for.  Who bears burden of final writing off or ultimate capitalizing the loss. What will the implications be on the various interrelated economic parameters like deflation, stock markets, currency decline, fall in interest rates, flight of capital, sale off government/ public sector companies, reduce costs and austerity measures.
  3. The range of variables cover in such a crises external and domestic debt, trade, GDP, inflation, exchange rates, interest rates, banking crises and commodity prices.
  4. In the future there could be paradigm shifts in solutions for overcoming debt. Some of the out of the box solutions could be:
    1. Rich nations buying poor debt laden nations;
    2. War to take over the debt ridden country;
    3. Mortgage and sale of large tracts of land, islands, monuments, historical sites, provinces, mineral mines, crude wells, factories to countries, rich individuals, private equity forms, corporates, financial sector, etc both domestic and international.
    4. Introduce a barter system strategically so the further debt can be avoided. A mechanism need to be worked around.
    5. Debt ridden countries may be forced to down size or right size and then may be adopt a steady state for their economies in order to escape the debt trap, though this may not be most palatable to the citizens. The recent protests in Greece and Spain show that this is not easy to implement.
    6. Compartmentalization of past debt in different buckets with differential treatment for each. Maybe securitisation..a la Wall Street style...mother of all debt....
    7. Pushing part of the debt to future generations to repay. This could one of the options of f above.
    8. Usher in Ecocalypse – the death of money.
  5. Sometimes these solutions cannot be taken in isolation. The people at the grassroots after years of profligate living would be extremely adverse to adopt austere lives. People all over the world would react similarly.
  6. Hence the debt problem is indeed a time bomb ticking away into the future, forever being postponed. Strategic innovative accounting principles need to be evolved to reduce the pain now and in as fair a way push it to the future.  As Keynes said in the long run we are all dead.

Post Covid World

Covid has suddenly thrust the planet to the inflexion point. It is a final wake up call for humanity. Civilisation has been on a suicidal ...