The Health of the People is the Highest Law

Death is Optional is a fascinating and terrifying (alternately and concurrently) conversation between historian Yuval Noah Harari and behavioural economist Daniel Kahneman, in which Harari uses his knowledge of the past to make predictions about the future. In one very memorable exchange he talks about the presumption we currently hold, that new advances in medicine will always trickle down to the general populace. But that was only true for a very short period of our history and, as automation supplants the human workforce in the future, won’t necessarily always be the case:

In the 21st century there is a good chance that most humans will lose their military and economic value. And once most people are no longer really necessary, the idea that you will continue to have mass medicine is not so certain.

Above the door to the former Walworth Town Hall, near my home in South London, there is the prominently displayed edict used in the title of this post:

This used to mean something.

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That edict was given when the town hall was built at the turn of last century, because people were the engine that drove the industrial revolution and the empire machine; an ivestment was made to keep the people healthy and educated because it benefitted Britain. But in the 21st century a healthy and educated populace isn’t required, because the heavy industry is long gone, and the dwindled empire needs no army to retain it.