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.