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.

Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

  1. This video makes me so happy but at the same time disappoints me. It’s so enlightening to think that good karma will come back for us if we help others, but it’s incredibly saddening to realize that so many people in power are living so far in the past.

  2. Thank you Kurzgesagt for showing people how the masses of poor people escape poverty. By spreading the free market to other developing countries and having good education, billionaires will have a vast untapped labor force. Just look at what is happening in India right now. The free market and big tech companies establishing IT centers in India coupled with their culture, which puts a high emphasis on education (gurus are treated like extra parents [also, look it up]) has caused India unprecedented growth at about 7%. Also, when foreigners visit, it also helps the economies of developing countries for street vendors and other sellers to sell foreigners their goods and increase demand for them. This is why war and oppressive Communist and Fascist governments have high poverty rates and very little visitors from foreigners from most countries. Focus more on increasing the size of the global pie than trying to get somebody else’s or trying to exclude another group from accessing the pie due to arbitrary reasons (race, gender, orientation, etc.). This is why consumerism is good (so people in poverty can start buying goods and products in ever increasing amounts) and the ordinary guy should have an impact in the economy rather than a small group of people (who think they are above humans) deciding what the people want in a planned economy. Planned economy = economic dictatorship; free market economy = economic democracy.

  3. Video disproves itself: If an innovator gets demand by someone that have money, isn't that implies that somebody must have big portion of the pie?

  4. Guys guys guys,i'm sorry to break it to you but earth is finite and innovation seems to slow down.Also,humans are territorial by nature,which slows our progress as a species.The way i see it,we will not be able to accomodate for our growing population in the future.Going to space of course seems like an option,but concider this:if our population growth rate increases even more,innovation will not manage to catch up,leading to one and only outcome:the strong will destroy the weak,in search for a bigger piece of the "pie" that really,stoped growing.The positive is that when the population decreases due to the inevitable wars,the remaining humans will have a head start in technology.This may lead to us colonizing space and solving the pie problem.But,in essence,if we want to go to space we need to kill each other.I am talking purely scientifically please dont take this as a sign of mental illness or something 😁

  5. So you mean… fuck sportsmen and give their money to scientists? NOICE

    Also, keep shouting and take my organs.

  6. Mmmmm poor farmers in 3rd world aren't useless "for you". US and UE have cheap food and people who can spend in non-food products thanks to them…

  7. I dont think er lade the pie bigger I think we just took in more players to get nothing out of us getting more

  8. However if you take this in an economic perspective, this could alter a depression. Too much production and expansion could lead to wasted products, creating layoffs for huge poverty to rise.

  9. When you say more people, would it be more exact, proficient or closer to utopia to say 'if no more people are in the extremes of the Gauss curve'? That is to say 'if there no more poor' but also 'if rich don't wallow anymore in empty luxury'. That second extreme of gaussian curve is not really touched in this video.

  10. When a specific cancer research charity is so well funded that they can afford to pay for a consultant to shop for artwork to decorate their research facility, is that actually helping to solve the mystery of cancer?

    I think assuming that benefit will always increase exponentially with no limit is misguided.

    Commercial airliners stopped getting faster in favour of being more fuel efficient. A similar limit on carrying capacity may have been the 747 since the next larger design by Airbus hasn't seemed to find the expected demand. A 2000- passenger transport isn't likely although the engineering skill probably already exists to build it.

    Cancer may be a problem that is only ever partially subdued regardless of increased funding. We may decide that some newly innovated target is a better answer like synthetic body transplantation. Who knows?

  11. Summary of the video:
    Instead of making rich people richer we need to make poor people atleast have a self-sustaining econonmy. If done so, the whole world will develop.

  12. What you describe is like printing money and 1923 Germany saw what happen when you print more money to buy more stuff

  13. Maybe we should emphasize the ego aspect of this dynamic. You're completely overlooking the question of resource availability and the feasibility/effect of peoples wishes. Research is definitely beholden to the money as well as the minds devoted to it, but even still we should consider how efficiently we are approaching solutions to problems instead of just throwing tons of money and work hours at it. Not to mention the deleterious positive feedback aspect of a positive sum cycle (which you noted as being unrealistic and confusing for good reason).

  14. But why is there a need for money to develop a cure for cancer? Can't people work for free if it's in their own interest?

  15. I wish the cure was made before Father’s Day. Then it would’ve saved my dad and we would be celebrating on Father’s Day, not grieving.

  16. I thought this was going to be a video about how egotism is worse than altruism in saving the planet from global warming but it was actually better than that

  17. This video is cute. But the system created after the industrial revolution is failing because people have innovated into environmental disaster and shrinking jobs. This system has failed in only a few hundred years. And the "pie" might not be food anymore but money. And that pie is going to an elite few just like the old agricultural system. This is all because of SELFISHNESS which does not breed goodness. Look at all the social decline and the skyrocketing suicide rate in the most innovative countries. All because of self centered expectations. This video is bogus.

  18. There's a lot of fallacies in this argument. Number one being that those at the top are almost invariably psychopaths and sociopaths who only care about what benefits them. We already have a global shortage of people who want to do physical work – farming, trades, etc. and those people are absolutely needed. Most people – probably around 75% of humanity – lack the native intelligence to contribute to the advancement of the species in any meaningful way. The reality is that most of us are dead weight – from an evolutionary point of view. Without population control none of the advances we make will be able to keep up with the exponential population explosion we're seeing and will inevitably lead to a Malthusian crisis. Your thesis is far too Pollyanna-ish in nature.

  19. My favorite video of kurzgesagt🤩👌 so many good things could camera out of an more organized civilized humanity👌

  20. It's sadden me, how easily all of africa's problems could be solved with good leadership, and a more knowledgable society. The opportunity is there, the resources for economic growth is there. What's worse is, the longer these people let their governments destroy their country, the deeper down the rabbit hole they go…

  21. why don't we send this to the important people around the globe like presidents,CEOs, and other people who could make thid change possible? or have we already done this and they did not want to listen?

  22. Not to get political, but this video is possibly the best argument for communism. If everyone is equal, absolutely nobody is left behind or unfairly emphasized and the entirety of humanity contributes to humanity… the world would be a better place.

  23. all good and well, but first we have to democratize the poor places in the world, before we make them rich. it would be a bad thing to have dictatorships that are rich enough to conquer us.

  24. This is such an important message, that is not taught in schools!
    Distribution of wealth is not what is important, creation of wealth is! It makes scene if you think about it 😀
    Thanks!

  25. las personas en un ambiente de escases son mas altruista que en uno de abundancia , el impacto de la segunda guerra mundial marco el altruismo de las ultimas décadas pero se va perdiendo a medida que mas gente acede a los recursos con el cambio climático y una tercera guerra mundial tal vez podamos conseguir el doble de altruismo que provoco la segunda guerra mundial

  26. But to make a better wold you have to increase the size of your pie. derpriving of your possession to give it to other does not work so charity is NOT the solution. the only way to improve the world is to innovate and get richer via the free market.

  27. A study of Wall Street traders concluded that, no matter what their espoused beliefs, their ethics went up and down with the stock market. Another study indicated that the overwhelming majority of people who call themselves moral, apply their morality to others in a deliberate, thoughtful manner, but not to themselves. Yet another study indicated that people who grow up in extended families or who regularly volunteer the use of their own two hands in service to the community, actually live up to the own moral ideals. John Boy had it right, while the less people's words match their behavior, the more immoral they are. The more distinctions we draw between who we are and what we are doing, the more abstract morality becomes for us, because morality requires intimacy and personal practice.

    Forty years of extensive studies concluded the republican party organizes along the lines of a flock of chickens and, to a chicken, morality is just more gibberish and they will fight over the definitions of words, never even realizing that the common dictionary merely contains popular definitions. Already some of their behavior is roughly as predictable as Newtonian mechanics, while this generation of computers will expose all the juicy mathematical details, including the best ways to encourage and discourage the idiots from continuing to destroy the entire world.

  28. If every nation was run like a western nation we would be on the moon and mars today…
    But somehow we realy dislike the western way of running countries…
    The west is not perfect… but its the best we got, would it not make sense to spread it and reap the rewards?
    Instead we focus on getting the west down to the level of the rest of the world… is this not suacidal at this point?

  29. The world has 7 billion people,
    which means 7 billion minds,
    I know a lot of them might be defected but imagine how awesome it would be if all the normal minds worked together as one…
    damn we could achieve so much….
    we can only wish….
    and maybe co-operate with each other

  30. very interesting, but I think you missed one category of people (Inventor, Researcher, Engineer & Thinker), service "people", they are the glue and the cost of that system. I think they are in a sense the limiters of the growth of the pie, if there number is to big. You can observer that when the growth margin start to be maximize, service people are the first to get-redundant 🙁

  31. Do we want more progression tho? Hasn’t it brought more problems and can’t we just be happy with what we have and focus on reducing our ecological footprint?

  32. This video is so misleading. I love kurzgesagt, but the first 2 minutes tries to portray the simple birth of technology and the mass industrialization of produce as actually benefic to society, when it isnt. The ratio of people that doesn't have access to food, or does but has nutricional deficiency nowadays is probably worse than it ever was. Being able to mass produce garbage products for a set minimum of the population isn't any sort of advantage.

  33. The more complex and interesting problems my sweaty balls. Humans make problems for themselves so there's always something to monetize on, good lord this video is biased
    This channel really hurts itself sometimes

  34. The rooting for third world countries and other less cared about civilizations REALLY isn't based on simply supply and demand. Not even at its core. If it would, trust me, things would definitely be different. It's entirely driven by a still really shitty and reduced will of having the human civilization thrive as a whole.
    Seriously, fuck this video, this is so poorly made and biased it makes me CRINGE.

  35. Tries to talk about the cure for cancer as if a single thing, and as if it didn't have such a complex pharmaceutical business sick model behind it to debate with. Nice, Kurzgesagt, you officialy proved to be just another shitty big media biased vehicle.

  36. Trying to push the solving of scientific improvement in areas such as research and medicinal treatment to simply "more invesment is needed PLS GIB MONEY" is so fucking lazy and dumb. Gosh, how much you paid your artists to try to silver coat this bullshit video? man I envy your lack of self-awareness. Fuck ya'll, peace

  37. Being more advanced between civilizations has not been so rapid, and these inequalities between civilizations as they were many thousands of years ago, It remains the same. This is the mindset of a number of Western thinkers who, in the light of the wars of recent decades, do not reach the right conclusions.

  38. But why would they help me how is i garintyd if i give so much and. Get nothing then id just be screwing my selfover

  39. destroy your lawn and get vegetables, lawns cost thousands year after year, and the plant is constantly thrown away

  40. you guys do some really amazing videos, do more videos like this please.(i'm an brazillian citizen so, sorry for the bad english)

  41. I'm not sure I would call pre-industrial civilization a zero sum game, at least not completely. If you live on your own, you have to worry about defending yourself, feeding yourself, housing yourself, and finding a partner (ok so you can't really live on your own, whatever). Live with a tribe, you still have to do a lot of those things, though friends and family can help. Bigger tribes become more efficient, each person is safer and better off than they were in a smaller tribe, because they have a lot of people that can defend against attackers, raid others, and gather resources. As societies build, less people need to be dedicated just to farming, because now you can have people whose job it is just to count food, do finances, and so on. You don't industrialize, but you do invent tools. Societies can also improve human output through motivations, from the nice (honor and caring for your community), to the neutral (profits) to the immoral (slaves are very motivated). You can spend less time defending yourself and more time farming, and people who are good at certain tasks or enjoy them more have more freedom to do them. Yeah this sounds a lot like the industrial revolution, it's the same kind of progress, just far smaller.

    I say this because it's also my argument in favor of immigration, against the idea that jobs can be "taken". If it isn't true that additional members of your society creates a net gain, a net increase in wealth and happiness, then trading and civilization itself wouldn't have happened. At least, that's what I think, but I'm by no means some Jared Diamond type. Also nothing I'm saying disproves or goes against what you're saying in this video, I'm just nitpicking. Comparing the level of progress of most of civilization to everything we've done after industrialization is crazy. The exponential growth in everything is so rapid that our society struggles to keep pace.

  42. 2:14 ; "how was this possible ?"
    Answer ; "through slavery of the poor and mass genocide of indigenous population" Everything else is irrelevant. My computer was made with the blood of african people who excavated the materials and the sanity of the chinese children who assembled it.
    The fabulous amount of crops we have today have been stolen by big enterprises from poor people, the one working on it are sometimes poorer than homeless people on the city's streets.
    And I could continue almost for ever.

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