The sleek sharp hull of the sailboat cut easily through the gentle swells of the Pacific. Francis enjoyed skippering the boat himself and loved taking others out with him. Today his nephew Anthony was with him and was obviously enjoying the wind, water, and views of the Southern California coast. Francis kept the boat in nearly perfect condition. Although he worked occasionally, his focus for the last few years had been experiencing the things he had missed out on. Sailing was one of the things he had never had enough time for in the past. He had spent decades pursuing a single goal and then he spent more years dealing with the unwanted fame and attention that came when he achieved his goal. His company no longer needed him guiding it full time and he was no longer interested in managing it day to day. The research the company was involved in was still cutting edge, and well funded by the profits his successful research brought in. But he had been too focused for too long. He had set out to cure old age, and he had achieved that goal. He had no desire to try to do something even bigger, in fact he couldn’t think of anything bigger to pursue!
“You know Anthony I envy you your youth.” Francis said in all seriousness.
His nephew gave him a puzzled look. “What do you mean. I don’t think anyone would be able to guess that I’m 35 years younger than you.”
“I don’t mean how old you or I look, but there is more to youth than appearances. It just seems like you have more choices than me. I’ve made so many of my choices. I’ve grown used to being independent and beside the obvious things like fame and money, I think a lot of women prefer men who still have choices ahead of them. Well at least the women who still have choices ahead of them.”
When it came to women and relationships Francis actually like to tell people that he had not chosen to never marry and not have kids… that it had just worked out that way. But he knew that wasn’t true. He had his chances over the years. Some of the women had not been right for him, and sometimes he had not been the right person for the woman, but there had been a few that could have worked out. Those opportunities were the ones that caused regrets. Maybe he could have still achieved his goals even if he had focused a little more on making one of those relationships work. So regardless of what he liked to tell people, Francis knew he had made choices that led him to his current place in life.
Anthony got a strange smile, “Are you talking about dating younger women?”
“It’s more complicated than that. I think it’s a generational thing. When I was your age, everyone knew they would grow old and die some day. They expected their choices to be permanent. They didn’t expect they would stay young indefinitely. Your generation knew what was coming and they have planned for it. Most younger women have frozen their eggs for ‘future use’. Have you planned for “having kids later”?”
“Sure I have. Almost my entire generation is ‘never married and no kids’. But most of us want to have kids someday, once we’ve had some fun and are set financially. Population growth would be even more out of control if everyone had kept being fruitful and multiplying like in your day. Marriage, though I’m not sure how that will work for me, the whole ‘until death do us part’ thing sounds pretty crazy when that could be hundreds of years. Maybe a 20-30 year commitment?”
Francis nodded and warned Anthony that he would be tacking. Once the boat duties were out of the way he thought for a second then continued the conversation, “The difference with my generation is they either got married and had kids or they didn’t. They didn’t “plan for kids later. Although I feel most comfortable with women of my generation, I don’t think many want the same things I do. I know I’m 68, but I never planned not to have kids, work just was more important. I have plenty of energy and probably plenty of time to raise a family, just no idea of who I would do that with or how to meet them.”
“I don’t think 68 is too old to have a child, age really is just a number now.” Anthony interjected, ” You know more about this than I do, but… we just don’t have any idea how long we can live. Not enough time since you came up with the treatments to rejuvenate the body at a cellular level to know what the new average life span will be. Old age is a thing of the past, but we aren’t immortal are we?”
Francis had spent nearly 30 years of his life working on the cure for old age. At the beginning, he had not thought much about it. He had wanted his friends and family to be with him always… to be immortal, that’s what drove him. However, long before the end of his research he realized that his work would not give him that.
“No, we are still mortal, our bodies are still fragile things. We all still face death someday, we just won’t die of old age or the classic old age diseases that used to kill so many. There are still accidents, violence, and disasters. Based on theory the treatments should continue to restore youth indefinitely, but there is really not enough evidence to know for sure.”
Francis could tell that Anthony was thinking about something, so he gave him some time to put his thoughts together and took care of some of the sailing tasks he needed to do to head back toward the harbor.
Eventually Anthony framed his question, “Uncle Francis, did you know that your work would have such big impacts on our society?”
Francis thought for a minute then replied, “I really didn’t think about it while I was doing my work. I was completely focused on the problems we all faced as individual’s. The reality of growing old and dying was not a pleasant personal reality. I really didn’t expect that I would be blamed by some for turning our society upside down. I guess the “circle of life”, a nice euphemism for growing old and dying, was the foundation much of our society had built on. Behavior, laws, and even religious belief systems were set up to work with the fact that we all were born, learned, worked, married, reproduced, got old, retired, then got older and died.”
Anthony jumped in, “Yeah, it is amazing how tied to that cycle everything had been. People had to make big changes in the way they thought or we would be in a very bad place today. If the birth rate had not dropped, population growth would have been unmanageable. For a lot of older people the thought of giving up social security was huge! The government and large corporation fixed retirement programs also collapsed as soon as they had to recalculate reserves required based on the new actuarial calculations. Your ‘cure for old age’ was an awesome discovery but it also caused a lot of turmoil!”
Francis remembered all of that all too well. Even now it was hard to think about the problems his work had caused. He fought giving in the anxiety and feelings of guilt that came with thinking about the bad things that had happened. As the memories washed over him, he was glad he was out on the water and had the sailing chores and the beauty of the water all around him.
At first he was viewed as a savior, but it did not take long for all the positive attention to turn to anger and blame. The problem was most people really didn’t care how the system worked, they felt entitled. The Social Security Administration had been the first system to find a way out. Luckily they also provided the health insurance for a large percentage of people through Medicare. Everyone was demanding that the treatments be covered. When Medicare required that people sign away their retirement benefit after a period of transition back to the workforce, some jumped on it. Francis was surprised how many refused to sign away their benefit. Some just delayed the treatments, but eventually decided to give up retirement and get the treatments. Some were either more obstinate, or miscalculated how long they could delay and they died of old age.
Most corporate retirement plans, even if they were fixed benefits had clauses in them to cover the overall plan against bankruptcy. State and local governments had much bigger problems especially since many of their plans were very generous. As cities and states started to go bankrupt, and the overall economy started to crumble, emergency actions were taken and people started to understand the problem and most of them accepted the solution. Some fought against the change though. The CalPERS riots in California had been the worst example of this. Thousands died and the damage was in the billions from the violence that broke out when the California legislature passed the law that limited the length of benefits after a person took the treatments and completely eliminated lifetime benefits for existing and future employees.
Eventually new plans emerged that allowed periods of sabbatical after a number of years of work. Retirements would not be forever unless you saved enough money so you could live on the interest for a long period of time.
Francis navigated back into the San Diego harbor as he continued the conversation, “People still aren’t sure if I am a savior or the guy who caused an apocalypse. Things have seemed to settle down now, but I’m still not sure we are out of the woods yet.”
Anthony was transfixed by the view of the moon rising above the San Diego skyline as they glided back into the inner harbor, but he managed a reply. “Definitely a savior of the individual in my opinion but I agree society still has some rough patches ahead. So much of what was considered good behavior before is now now causing society problems.”
Francis jumped in, “Yeah, they used to harp about the low saving rate and how bad that was, now they are worried that the savings rate is too high and that there will be a ‘capital bubble’ that will cause economic instability.
“Yeah it seems like everyone in my generation came up with the same plan. Since we could have such a long lifespan the way to beat the system was to save, save, save and once the pot was big enough we would be able to just live off the interest.” Anthony said. “It doesn’t look like it is going to work out exactly the way we planned.”
Francis looked at Anthony sympathetically, “Yeah, on the surface that sounds like a good plan, but when you step back and think about the reduced birth rate, the reality is not everyone can just leave the work force permanently. The capital markets are going into a bubble due to the extremely high personal saving rate. Too much money looking for a place to grow. Capital accumulation has outpaced the need for capital, driving the interest rates lower and inflation higher. Since the return is lower than the inflation rate, people’s savings are shrinking instead of growing. Because this is due to personal savings the government has lost a lot of the control of the capital markets they used to have.”
Anthony didn’t look happy about any of this. “Well Uncle thanks for messing up the whole world!” He put on a halfhearted attempt to smile and added, “Just kidding. I know we’ll eventually solve these issues and things will settle in to the new reality. Luckily we all have more time to wait for things to settle down thanks to you.”
Francis slowed the boat to a crawl as he navigated toward his slip, Anthony stepped on to the dock and helped tie in the sailboat. After the boat was secured, and all the covers were in place the two men stepped on to the dock and walked toward the exit.
As they parted Anthony gave his Uncle a hug.
“Get out there and find the person you’re looking for Uncle Anthony. You deserve to have everything you want in life.”
“Thanks Anthony and thanks for going out for a sail with me. Maybe next time we can make it a double date instead of a boys night!”
As they turned to walk in different directions to their cars Anthony waved and said, “Sounds great. See you soon Uncle Francis.”
As Francis walked to his car he wondered if he would ever meet the right person and have a family. He decided to keep trying. Unfortunately when you’re the world’s first trillionaire, meeting someone was not as easy as signing up for a dating site. He couldn’t just go online and arrange a first ‘date’ at the local coffee shop.