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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.

Comments (100)

  1. There's brand new stuff in the Kurzgesagt Merch Shop. Check it out here: shop.kurzgesagt.org

  2. Too bad people have no foresight

  3. But is it really selfish

  4. I didn’t even need you to tell me that bill and Melinda gates were the sponsors of this videp

  5. Anyone who thinks this is what capitalism does today doesn’t know wtf they are talking about. Capitalism steals all resources from poor countries and fights to keep them poor and ignorant. There will never be a big enough pie for some human pigs in this world.

  6. yeah well, there are too many greedy people in the world and we still need to fight for individual identities so when people disagree with me, ill fight them.

  7. If this is true, then Thanos is right.

  8. Wow. This is the first Kurzgesagt video that I feel horrible about. So many things said are so wrong, or just capitalistically over-simplified. Holy cow, how come the world was a "zero-sum" ? What is "better off" ? We increased farming production ? (hahahha or just centralized it with brutal means to a selection of most inefficient methods that just create more market value but negative agricultural results) How come "the work of a poor farmer is not useful to you" ?
    Man, what a fantasy world.
    It wants to look and sound so much like science, but these are not even facts !
    Just terrible points of view for uber-urbanists that are against almost every social or agricultural studies.
    Bill Gates fondation paid for the video huh ? no kidding. Brainwashing for children.

  9. but sadly people want to die and wants for you to die so they die whit you

  10. but saldly people want more pie than they should have

  11. but sadly i made 3 comments on this video starting but sadly

  12. but sadly

    ill stop D:

  13. Great video. But I disagree with an idea. There is no way the 6 billion people would spend as much money as the current one billion. Its because of inflation. If everyone on earth would earn extra one million dollar, the money wouldn't be worth as much.

  14. 0:54 yet another wilhelm!

  15. Nope, it's still mostly a zero sum game. You just started ignoring the negative side of the equation for no reason. Fundamentally, innovation and technology just means we get natural resources and energy up from the ground faster and faster and can turn them into more and more different things. It doesn't mean we are creating more resources. It's all deducted from someone's pie, namely every other living species and future human generations.

    I say mostly, because there are some exceptions and gray areas. If we eradicate Ebola we will be taking Ebola's pie. It's just that nobody cares about Ebola's pie, nor should they.

  16. I would partly agree on your positive opinion about the egoistic altruism. Yes innovation make more people prosper but on the other side our big need for consumption leads to the tons of plastic in the ocean and airpolution and there are many more harmful effects especially for our environment. Nowadays our resources can not keep up with our needs. This is a point which is missing in your video in my opinion. (A great book about this issue is tomas sedlaceks the economics of good and evil.)

  17. So how is socialism bad?

  18. Everything you said in the first minute of the video is also true today.

  19. I'm kinda late to comment on this as I'm just seeing this now, and I might get some hate for this, but the sum of this video is also my main argument against religious people who say "what difference does it make to you if I teach my children my religion"…

    THIS is why, I've met a lot of extremely intelligent people who aren't thinking about the world as broadly because they find an answer for everything in god…

    This is a hard truth, but unfortunately, capitalism (which I'm not against btw) is too powerful and wants money NOW and not tomorrow,

    Big companies need countries to be poor so they can exploit labor wages, outsource jobs and so on,

    If only we could somehow convince those at the top of these companies that they would be better off earning half of what they do from a product now, but having potentially triple the number of customers…

    It's easy to spot this trend when you look at technological advancement in recent years,

    The fact that there are so many countries competing for a place in the market is what drives development and as you say better solutions for existing problems (cheaper, faster or more permanent)

  20. But there's inflation and such. For some to be rich others have to be poor. So it's not possible for everyone to be able to buy the supposed treatment for cancer, right?

  21. “Do you like being alive?”
    Me- “perhaps”

  22. Why not talking about peak oil? Or "peak of everything" ?

  23. Its funny that its sponsered by bill gates and only talks about the bottom up approach and not about the top down approach to create this wealth for everybody

  24. 0:53 did you hear it?

  25. I don't think that is realistic , innovation might have some consequences on us , it can't be all good

  26. Now it's clear where billionaires aimed to in the last x thousand years. They just took the long way.

  27. "Then the industrial revolution hit and everything changed"…..No, no it didn't.

  28. I’m pretty sure those were cake but okay

  29. Things have not changed as much. Powerful nations and large corporations, still, try to get a bigger piece of pie. The only difference is that they don't do it by starting wars (at least not as much) but through exploitating developing countries, where people of lower classes are desperate for money.

  30. GREAT NEWS! Now we just need to do all that without polluting/destroying the planet in the process.

  31. You always make me wish I was born a few hundred years later. Based on technology of course👍

  32. Meanwhile FORTNITE is a “negative sum game” as the land gradually becomes more unusable

  33. we wont, greed dont forgett it ..

  34. treating kancer?
    avoiding kancer?

  35. Kurzgesagt: Do you like being alive?

    Me: PERHAPS

  36. If you want a good way to help developing nations, invest in water infrastructure or organizations that help build it. Water infrastructure has returns of up to 9x, and is the first and most vital step to improving healthcare and quality of life. After that, it's medicine and education.

  37. I wanna be a farmer ask me why

  38. Okay I'm the only one that felt really bad for that bird at 0:43

  39. I've got a small set of questions:

    1) What if the poor people we should invest on aren't able to produce innovation and progress the way that we want, maybe for cultural or social backgrounds?

    2) What if we invest on them but in the meanwhile history happens, and they refuse to share new obtained knowledge and technology with us investors? (imagine a Wakanda scenario here)

    3) Isn't it sad and utterly unethical, that we invest on people like they were commodities, just for the sake of our own interest and our own wellbeing?

    4) Shouldn't they deserve to live a good life just because they're human beings and not because a higher rank of humans said that they were worthy of an upgrade?

    5) Do we really need to still have this conversation going? It's the same old, eurocentric mindset that kept imperialism going, even after the end of colonial empires.

  40. "Do you like being alive?"

    no.

  41. the pie is growing at the expense of our home, the earth.

  42. The only problem now is its a bit too late to realize the positive-sum world after exploiting the poor countries by rich ones in the last two centuries.

  43. I would die for a piece of pie rn

  44. One small problem in this video
    The "positive-sum game" relies on perpetual growth, which relies on ever increasing consumption of energy…especially fossil fuel.
    So…

    "Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist."

  45. The problem comes when governments step in and say what prices are going to be set at so they have more power…

  46. Problem is that capitalists just want to gather more and more and dont want to share we those in need by paying taxes.

  47. But I want an ever so slightly bigger piece of the pie now at the expense of essentially infinite pie later!

  48. I've been saying this since I was seven!

  49. If everybody lived like average american we would need 5 earths we have now to sustain that kind of luxury life…This is a FACT
    So no we dont want most of the things you say in this video

  50. This gave me a better vision of what life could be. Thankyou.

  51. The pie is an Egg…

  52. 6:30 do you like being alive?

  53. apply the same for the minds 😉

  54. "Do you like being alive?"
    Good question

  55. I hereby proclaim that pie will be banned for it has subtly caused wars.

  56. Why does the pie look like cake?

  57. 0:48 societies invaded each other constantly to GET MORE PIE

  58. i want some global pie :3

  59. Well try to explain it to Republicans

  60. The only problem is that 1% of the population still holds most of the pie, and doesn't want to share.

  61. "Societies invaded each other constantly to get more pie." is great out of context.

  62. The real problem we have is that far to many people still try to get all of the pie even though they dont need it. The cake is a lie

  63. 6:19 Check yo stagin!

  64. Hmm, so all progress, indeed all life, is due to energy flows that enable the transformation of raw materials to more and more beneficial goods. We’ve gone from photosynthesis to hydrocarbon to splitting the atom. Seems to be like if we want the party to continue, and not kill our selves in the process, we need another revolution in energy flows that can support all this innovation.

    Fusion would be great, but I’ll settle for a mix of renewables with next generation of fission (liquid fuel, thorium, etc) for the next 50 years.

  65. Hey, what about bread instead of pie?
    I'm sure you can spoil every party with such an argument.

  66. I have no comment i am just inspired

  67. The thing some in the west like feeling superior to "all those poor third world countries" which gives us stupid things like the US-China trade war that is tanking the whole world's economy for no particular reason.

  68. The world will be a better place when we get God

    Out of government
    Off the dollar bill
    Out of schools

    God is an astral virus parasite that destroys human communication, creativity, ingenuity, and spirit.

  69. Or you can kill those who can’t afford everyting. Then the 1 billion of the 1 billion people can invest in all this. Not 1 of 7 billion.

  70. Wealthy individuals CONSUME MORE because they can. This is a problem for the Mega Rich.
    This is why they are dumbing down society, things are getting harder to achieve, getting more expensive, getting more complicated and confusing………
    It's a deliberate grinding down of our nation.
    Keeping us busy with bs on tv, racebaiting , indoctrination of LGBT+++ and transgenderism, war on family values, war on Christianity, war on Gender, war on patriotism, war on history, war on freedom of speech and war on the TRUTH etc, etc.
    We need to wake up.
    When Bill Gates stated…." innovation to near Zero " , think about what that really means……
    It means genocide of you and me…..a silent weapon for quiet war to reduce the population to ZERO, aside from the Ultra Rich !
    Btw…….they had a cure for Cancer for a very long time. Rockefeller owns the patent.

    Live your damn lives ppl, things are about to get ugly because THEY know, that we know, which makes us # 1 enemy of the state .

  71. Watch this video and The Egg video in succession (order doesn't matter)…

  72. We are all connected.
    If one person is held back, we all suffer.
    If one person advances we all benefit.
    God Bless you and your family

  73. But what if I want to make the world a worse place?

  74. Every video inspires people like this one!

  75. At the end of the day, if you can make the world a better place it doesn't matter if the intention is selfish, the act is still good.

  76. 6:27 yo is is that a SUPRA

  77. PPPPPPPIIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEE WWWWWAAAARRRR

  78. "So how do we get people nowadays to be less selfish and care more about other people?"

    Kurzgesagt :

  79. Does oil make a big part of the pie today? what if the oil inevitably becomes too hard to find?

  80. (iq by race statistics)

  81. "There is a genuine selfish argument for making the world a better place" Yeah, by despotically encroaching the notion of normalizing and justifying a first world nation ego and insecurity, at all cost, even at the expense of playing God and violating human dignity in the long run by nothing more than crass immoral consumerism. In short, in order for me to feel less guilty about my blessings in life, everyone else has to live just like I do. Never mind that maybe some cultures actually choose to live simply or modest and want nothing to do with someone else condescending insecurity and shallow pop culture. Just another utopian idealism, no thanks. 🙂 Peace be with you…

  82. Instead of having an america where everyone can have healthcare and everyone’s abilities are utilized to their full potential, we have an america focused on making money for the top people at the expense of the bottom people

  83. Do any of our world leaders watch Kurzgesagt videos? Cuz they need to start right now.

  84. 6:23 africans have already a space program. Look up on youtube "african space program" …

  85. An excellent argument for a minimum wage increase.

  86. 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?

  87. 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.

  88. that bird at 0:40 crying makes me so sad 🙁

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