Anecdote: Many of my high school friends and peers went on to pursue medicine. I pursued engineering. Multiple times I was asked by these people, "You're smart so why aren't you spending your life making a difference?" Your comment and its ilk remind me of that question.
Your friends were delusional. In the world, there is a pool of change agents driven by intrinsic drive, and some of them can make an actual difference, but I don't think there is any way to choose becoming the specific agent who matters - rather, one can only join the pool and do ones best.
As you describe it, your friends thought they asked why you don't want to be the change agent who matters (which is a non-sequitur). They could have asked why you don't want to jump into the pool and dedicate several years of your life to a possible dead end career (which they probably didn't ask).
I asked why it's bad to whish for different economic environment for those in the pool.
I may have misinterpreted the discussion before my comment, though.
The crapton of data is produced and relied on because of broken philosophy of system. That could be changed as well (I don't know how).
"We are quite in danger of sending highly trained and highly intelligent young men out into the world with tables of erroneous numbers under their arms, and with a dense fog in the place where their brains ought to be. In this century, of course, they will be working on guided missiles and advising the medical profession on the control of disease, and there is no limit to the extent to which they could impede every sort of national effort."
Fisher, R N (1958). "The Nature of Probability". Centennial Review. 2: 261–274