To change the world, invest; don’t start a business

Taleb in the post The Merchandising of Virtue says that to change the world, you must start a business.

1) never engage in virtue signaling; 2) never engage in rent seeking; 3) you must start a business. Take risks, start a business.


Yes, take risk, and if you get rich (what is optional) spend your money generously on others. We need people to take (bounded) risks. The entire idea is to move these kids away from the macro, away from abstract universal aims, that social engineering that bring tail risks to society. Doing business will always help; institutions may help but they are equally likely to harm (I am being optimistic; I am certain that except for a few most do end up harming).

Given the high failure rate and high costs of starting a business, that seems like poor advice. I would much rather latch onto something that is already successful by being an investor than start from the ground-up. Risk management is better than risk. I would rather put $200k into stocks and have a decent chance of doubling my money in 3-5 years (especially in our post-2009 era of asset-based capitalism), than a business and have an 80% chance of losing it all. As always, YMMV though.

There was post on Reddit not long ago of someone who had thousands of Bitcoin that would presently be worth over $100 million, but he gave them away because when he acquired them they weren’t at the time worth anything. It’s nearly impossible to get those kind of returns with entrepreneurship, yet it’ not too uncommon (or at least not outside of the realm of feasibility) for ordinary people to turn $10k into $100k or even $1 million or more through buying & holding stuff. I outline such methods (here, here, and here) that have and continue to work.

To some extent, virtue signaling seems unavoidable. Saying ‘pedophiles and rapists are bad people’ is technically a form of virtue signaling. More specifically, it probably means an insincere show of virtue and or opportunistic show of virtue to advance one’s standing in a social hierarchy,

Ray Dalio manages money for a living and is not only immensely successful at it, but his videos on YouTube (especially the one “How The Economic Machine Works”) have been watched millions of times and have probably changed the world. Same for Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger, whose wisdom has been passed on to his many followers, but they are also changing the world through philanthropy. None of them needed to start a business from the ground-up to do this.

But if you look at the Forbes 400 list, many are entrepreneurs, not investors. Who wouldn’t want to be one of five of the most successful people alive, but the odds of being a hedge fund manager who ‘only’ makes few billion are way better than trying to be the next Jeff Bezos. Even if being a CEO has a higher expected value, because you can only play the game of life once, you may as well shoot for a higher median value. One has higher expected median return with investing than trying to start a business, even if the latter has a higher theoretical maximum return. Extreme outliers can inflate the expected returns when using averages, but medians give a more realistic picture.