A Selfish Argument for Making the World a Better Place – Egoistic Altruism

A Selfish Argument for Making the World a Better Place – Egoistic Altruism


Until recently, the vast majority of the world population worked on farms and the total production of the world’s economy was mostly the total agricultural output. And this output was limited by the fixed size of the land. The total output of the economy did not change a lot year by year. The size of the pie was fixed; the world was a zero-sum game. In such a stagnating world, the only way to get better off is if someone else gets worse off. if you take a bigger piece of the pie, someone else’s gets smaller. If you want more food, then conquering, plundering, and stealing are great strategies. Your neighbors loss is your gain. This was the state of things for thousands of years. Societies invaded each other constantly to get more pie. Economic inequality was extreme. Some had all the pie they wanted, while others had to live with the crumbs. Then, the Industrial Revolution happened and everything changed. We developed machinery, better crops, better fertilizers. Agricultural output skyrocketed, but we didn’t just produce more food – every industrial sector exploded in terms of productivity. From 1700 to 1870, the production of iron in Britain increased 137 fold. The Industrial Revolution led to a previously unimaginable increase in economic output. This altered the nature of our societies. Economic growth changed the world from a zero-sum game to a positive-sum game. We had found a way to create a bigger pie – but not only a bigger pie, but a pie that was growing bigger each year. More people could have more at the same time. This development is spreading and continuing today. Antibiotics kill bacteria. Power plants deliver energy. Cell phones connect us. Planes let us travel cheaply. Fridges store food. Continuous progress in all sectors of the economy seems normal to us today, but the change from stagnation to economic growth really was the most drastic shift in human history. How was this possible? At the very core of this massive transformation stand new ideas that lead to innovation. Innovation has many different definitions, but in the context of this video, we mean better solutions to existing problems and solutions to problems we didn’t know we had. The more you innovate, the more complex and interesting problems you discover as your wishes and needs evolve. The average citizen in Norway 250 years ago might have wanted some really good shoes. 150 years ago, maybe a bicycle. 80 years ago, a car. 30 years ago, cheap air travel. And so on. Once we get what we want, we don’t stop; we can see how we can improve things even more, and how to make things even better. The new positive-sum world has existed for 0.1% of human history and we have yet to get used to it. It has a consequence that feels really unintuitive. In a positive-sum world, it’s in your personal selfish best interest that every human on planet earth is well off. It’s good for you if people in obscure parts of countries you’ve never heard of are prospering. There is a genuine selfish argument for making the world a better place. In a positive-sum world, the more people are well-off, the better your own life is. This is because of the nature of innovation; it is fundamentally driven by supply and demand. The supply increases when more people have the freedom and education to contribute. They become inventors, researchers, engineers or thinkers that come up with new ideas. The demand for ideas increases as people get richer, and can pay for new solutions. They increase the size of the market for innovations. Innovation follows incentives. So naturally, if many people want and can pay for something, it will get the innovators attention and energy. Improving the lives of those who are worst off has a multiplying effect. It increases demand for ideas while at the same time, making it easier for ideas to be produced. Let’s take an example that interests all of us – a cure for cancer. If there are 1 billion people in the world that have the wealth to pay for cancer treatments, innovation will follow this demand. So hundreds of billions of dollars have been invested in medical research. This had a huge effect, but we’re still nowhere near to curing all forms of cancer. Today, every sixth person in the world dies of cancer, and you might be one of them. Now, imagine if demand were higher. Imagine instead of 1 billion people being able to pay for a cure for cancer, there were 4 billion or 7 billion. Imagine how far medicine could have developed if we’d invested 7 times as much in curing cancer. On top of that, there’s so much human potential being wasted right now. The work of a poor farmer in a developing nation is not useful to you. But if he becomes better off, his children might spend their time in university developing things that are useful to you. Instead of having some hotspots of innovation in the developed world, we would have many hotspots all over the world. The research output of humanity would be many times what it is right now. Could we have cured cancer by now if that were the case? Well, maybe. If we spent 7 times as much on research, had 7 times as many people working on it, and a global network of medical research, things would certainly be further ahead than they are now. And this is the core of the argument: the more people want the same thing that you want, the more likely you are to get it. That is what it means to live in a positive-sum world. You don’t gain more pie if poor places stay poor. Instead, you get more pie if poor places get richer, contribute ideas, and grow the global pie. Do you like space travel? Imagine there were billions of people in Africa and Asia with their own space programs, and demand for satellites and moon bases and cities on Mars. Do you like being alive? A few billion people paying for medical research could literally save your life. It’s in your interest for people around the world to become better off. The faster we get to this version of the world, the better for you personally. No matter what your motivation is, working on a better world is a very good thing to do – for others, and for you. This video was a collaboration with Max Roser and Our World in Data, and supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. If you want to help us stay afloat and make more videos, you can support us on Patreon or get some of our fancy posters.

100 thoughts on “A Selfish Argument for Making the World a Better Place – Egoistic Altruism

  1. Then humans discovered that stacking many levels multiplies output accordingly.
    I don't care about humans half a continent away, because they're monsters and warmongers, why import evil from overseas?

  2. Speculative bullshit "their kids may spend some time and develop something useful to you".
    Like the LGBT culture? Black racebaiting for profit? Absurd feminist islam?
    I'll take what the European intellectuals produce, which comprises most of your content, thanks.

  3. Does this align with given ressources? Can every person on earth live my lavish life and can earth provide? I already have the feeling that 1billion is creating enough environmental problems, that this times seven sounds harsh. Sure 7times more people commited to the energy-crysis etc. but meh… is there really a solution to the endless demand of an evergrowing society?

  4. No! Stupid people will stay stupid. You cant make millions of africans and indians educated. It is not worth it. Better to spend this money to develope your own people.

  5. We've been living with innovation for around long 0.000000000000000000000001%of the lifespan of humanity

    Me: that's a long time on the loading screen

  6. But… The western world is rich because eastern world is poorer… And northern world is richer because southern world is even more poor…
    Look at the double standard of food quality in the EU… The former Eastern block has not only worse quality of products from international companies but it's also often more expensive while the salaries are ridiculously low compared to the west. Allowing the western countries to live in comfort of having high salaries and low prices… Because the eastern countries are paying for it..

  7. People are so sick it hurts

    Many diseases probably already have real permanent cures, but they “don’t want to say it”. Because they make more money of inhibiting drugs. If the person is fully cured, then they don’t make any more money!

    Take Aids for example

  8. Once we start living for each other, we'll be like the cells of our own body which live for each other. We will be supporting the life of an earth organism by acting co-dependent cells of it's body.

  9. Unfortunately if "well-off" means the standard that most Western civilizations hold (primarily the USA), there are just too many people on the planet to sustain that. We would run out of resources so fast that this kind of progress could not happen.

    As odd as it sounds, I wish we had less people on the planet. The less people there are, the easier it becomes to solve things like poverty. There are too many people in the world for us to help

  10. Thanos was right. Somewhat. The universe does appear to have finite resources. Eventually, if not humans, one society that advances far enough will use them all up. We have to seek balance.

  11. "The production of iron increased in Britain" did it???? They just stole from Indians
    And then you say you spend a lot on research

  12. Problem is that the invested money gets lost along the way. The more you invest, the more expensive a product/service becomes. Its nice to theorize about this ideal world, but when the 1% keep skimming all the cream of the top, there will never be enough cream for the less fortunate. So, you end up becoming just as competitive and selfish as the people you despise in order to take what others worked harder than you to produce. It is true that all the new technology and science does eventually make its way to the mainstream consumer, but it happens at such a slow rate that innovation outruns deployment which ends up causing increased income inequality. Trying to leverage it back into balance is really hard and can lead to critically stable economic models. How do you put a monetary value on productivity? How can two people who work the same hours and deliver the same amount of end product not receive the same monetary compensation for their effort? One is just better at negotiation and as such is promoted faster than the other, even though both deliver the same results. If both were to receive the same promotions, the big boss would just increase the selling price of the business offers. This loops back on the workers and now they have to work harder just to sustain the same level of living comfort. Then we account for automation and the internet where everyone becomes more diverse, so now people get laid off simply because the business no longer requires their inputs. These people could start their own businesses, which then encourages competitiveness and selfishness. The world no longer cares about whether a person's needs are looked after just for the sake of it. There are always strings attached. Make your workers happier because then they will give you more effort and you can exploit them further.

    It is the way things are for now and until we can convince ourselves that there is enough to go around for everyone, nobody will be satisfied. Or am I just talking nonsense? Where do we start to improve the system?

  13. Its a horrible day outside…
    Bees are dying
    Sky is polluted
    On days like these, humans like us

    S h o u l d b e b u r n i n g i n h e l l =)

  14. The world is still a zero sum game. Except now your gain isn't just the neighbor's loss… it's the planet's loss.

    I usually love those videos, but pretending we live in a world of infinite ressource seems irresponsible.

  15. unfortunately, people aren't concerned with the volume/area of pie they get, but the overall percentage that they control. The issue is people who have 15% of the pie, want to keep that 15% regardless of the size of the pie.

  16. This is basically you trying to convince a bunch of bourgeois stockholders to basically acknowledge anyone else below them , " and if food-insecured or say starving people aren't much of an incentive to you guys, because you, like, have iota of compassion at all , let me show you that helping sup bar nations and populations develop might actually have the best outcomes for your own singular selfish benefit ."
    plays the vedio:

  17. We need 3rd world countries to prosper, and thankfully they are at a rate that outpaces the original up and coming 1st world’s (like England). We all win when everyone is secure

  18. There's something to this, but too much simplification and unaddressed problems. First, it doesn't say anything about the division of labor which is largely responsible for productivity gains, secondly, economic growth isn't a modern invention, third the industrial revolution was for most of its time an incredibly zero-sum game for most people, fourth the environmental costs of economic growth are ignored, fifth the whole arguments runs into a collective action problem and is therefore not persuasive to any egoist (the rewards for my altruistic contribution are negligible, taking away pie though delivers great gains), sixth wealthy exploiters will in fact be worse off in a better world since they no longer have the privileges and free income they used to have. So, unfortunately the conclusion does not follow.

  19. I think world is still a zero sum game. It's just that there are a lot more people now than before, so we can't see who's at the bottom.

  20. This all assumes that all people are the same and have the same abilities. People in Africa must be poor because of socio-economic reasons, rather than racial. Unfortunately, there is no evidence of that.

  21. Hi! We're doing a research about people's motivations for "making the world a better place" , as you call it. Think about buying fairtrade or organic products, or donating money. We stumbled upon your theory and we think it could be really useful for us, but of course, we can't use just this video as a source. That why we would appreciate it A LOT if you could give us some examples of sources you used 😀

  22. O problema é que a riqueza e gerada através da segregação. Muito bonito o vídeo mas simplista demais. Papo utópico de país de "1° mundo" que acha que não existe gente morrendo de fome…

  23. Where does this put artists in general? I mean that a rich artist can be a contributor in terms of wealth but what about artists in general? If an individual decides to become an artist and more people starts following it then in terms of contribution aren't they kind of slowing the progress since the human race can survive without the need of any entertainment from a physical standpoint?
    Development is obviously necessary. But if more people joins the side of art with the money provided to develop a certain place then doesn't it waste the entire money? I mean with this, one's destiny is being decided by the society for the betterment of our future and not on the person himself/herself. Should a man's fate be decided for a better future or should the man choose his own? Does choosing a path, that may not lead to a scientific progress, make him bad or wrong? I don't know if I am correct or not. But I would definitely like to have a discussion.

  24. I don't believe in the moral of egoism

    Follow me here: every "positive action" made motivated by egoism is, in all cases, an indirect, impersonal charity, one that doesn't come from heart. It is donating some money, giving some things, much like a show off: hey guys, I have so much money I can give it away. Most of these charities are not efficient, just a palliative use of money. Economic egoism or greed moves the economy forward, yes. But when it comes to the human life, we all need much more love than we give.

  25. Why can't we print a shed load of money without decreasing the value of it. Give everyone absolutely loads, sort out current issues. It's like we've created our own money problems

  26. Innovation must also be accepted. The two greatest innovations in the last century are capitalism and the electric universe. Having raised half the world from poverty, capitalism is under attack from socialism. Having solved the mysteries of the cosmos, the electric universe is under attack for heresy. The mind is a problem solver. Take away its problems and it will become angry. Anger will make more problems.

  27. we need to share this video with everyone so people will start helping each other and actually making the world a better place

  28. BULLSHIT…. The system is rigged… There is nothing economical about the economy… Do a video about engineered obsolescence. People dying of cancer, etc., is "good for the economy"… keeps people in high paying jobs, etc…

  29. Doesn't this video assume that the positive sum game of the modern world is never ending? That economic growth is going to be constantly on the rise forever?

  30. I want to become a researcher in deceases, but curing cancer will never become possitive, overpopulation is the only thing that would be our downfall

  31. I agree to this to a certain exctent. In a perfect world this would be great. But just because people go to college doesn’t make them innovative. Especially if most are mentally retarted like we are here in the US. You can’t force that drive to innovate if lazy millennials don’t want to.

  32. The ideas mentioned here are mere ideals. The best we can do is to inculcate these values as essential morals in everyone. Societies are arrangements where power is distributed to a select few people, assuming they work for the greater good of the society, rather than themselves.
    But the feelings of greed, jealousy etc. which were useful for our cavemen ancestors will ultimately result in exploitation of power.
    A growing pie simply means more is available to fulfill people's greed.
    Will people in power invest and wait for the eventual positive impact of power/economic redistribution, or consume immediately?

  33. And don't forget that the more filthy rich the upper class, the faster the lower middle class will have access to quality of life improving products. Such as flat screen TVs, they were around $60,000 when they came out, or a rough share of the cost it took to build the factory that made it. Then the super rich were the only ones to buy them and supported the growing industry until they became affordable for the rest of us. The cost of anything new is having offensively vast wealth inequality, and watching rich people have cool stuff 5 years before we do. But like the video said, none of that matters till there is a middle class for the industry to grow into

  34. Ahh Globalism, no matter how you package it and try to call it something else, it remains one of the worst things to have been inflicted on Mankind..

  35. Uhm, first of we would need to get rid of our need for low lvl labor, because otherwise there would not be any food or clothing… Agree or disagree?

  36. Unfortunately there's not enough resources on earth for that kind of development and population increase. Thanos will need to get involved. Also, before we are so advanced to find more resources on other planets, our resources would be depleted. We just need to go back to enjoying our pie that we have and stop craving more and more and more – it will be the end of us.

  37. There is a quote that says: if I have 2 gold mountains and gave you one, you'll ask me: the second one belongs to who?
    Even if I gave you infinite and kept one you're gonna ask me because you want it

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