An Altruistic Society Would Be a Chaos of Curtsies
Dan Sanchez

Imagining the problems of a totally altruistic world is an interesting thought experiment. You’re right that it would be somewhat inefficient, with people taking extra time to figure out what others would like, without the benefit of guidance from the recipients themselves. That inefficiency would slow the economy and reduce the overall benefits to everyone.

We experience this in reality with some of our friends and relatives when we spend time searching for gifts for each other, or insisting on paying the bill for the whole group at a restaurant, or deferring to each other when deciding what movie to watch. This politeness does slow things down and might even yield sub-optimal choices. But I usually prefer friends like that to friends who go too far in the other direction by demanding that their own wishes be satisfied. On the broader level, I’d also prefer a society composed of people who lean to the altruistic side rather than the selfish side. I don’t think the inefficiency of altruism is necessarily much of a problem.

But maybe there is an optimum level of selfishness that would most efficiently maximize benefits to each individual. That level might vary depending on the conditions of each society, such as the amount of resources available, the culture, and the laws.