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Luke Hutchison

TED Fellow, Google

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Is capitalism sustainable?

Bono stated in his TED2013 talk that the numbers show that we can eradicate all poverty worldwide by 2030. While I really hope that is true, it begs the question: Is capitalism sustainable? Is it possible to have a rich and middle class without a poor class? The sad reality of capitalism is that if there is an exponentially small number of people with exponentially large wealth, there has to be an exponentially long tail of much poorer people who are each contributing to that wealth. Not that we necessarily need an exponentially small number of people with exponentially large wealth, but would the world keep running without capitalistic incentives that increase the separation between rich and poor? Can we eradicate all poverty without the rich sharing their riches? What happens to civilization when nobody is willing to work in the factories and orchards, or build roads?

(Please don't take this question the wrong way! Personally I wish that nobody had to work menial jobs. I just don't understand how we can eradicate poverty when so many jobs will always translate into low-paid labor.)

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    Feb 28 2013: Another idea borrowed from nature. Young trees may double in size in one year, but old trees barely grow at all - only dead branches fall off. The idea of artificial sustenance of corporate behemoths because they are "too big to fail" is strange. Perhaps, they are "too big not to fail". A huge tree falling may damage a few things, but it will open a huge spot under the sun and create opportunity for growth.

    Would it make sense to force corporations larger than a certain size to split into smaller entities? This would prevent enormous concentration of corporate capital, whereas personal wealth should not be limited to leave the incentive for growth. Same idea as anti-monoply laws taken a bit farther.
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    Feb 27 2013: The question is not whether capitalism is sustainable but whether capitalism as we see it today is. Once again nature and its myriad systems become our teachers here. It is inevitable that resources/energy will always flow from where they are high to where they are low. If we consider the energy currency our own body uses (glucose/ATP), we find that the excess glucose is stored away as glycogen in the liver. But then this storage capacity is not indefinite and our system finds ways to bleed off this excess storage in a manner that is salubrious to the entire system. Because too much of glycogen storage becomes toxic to the body and manifests as disease. In a similar vein, too much money concentrated in the hands of few individuals would become toxic to the entire financial system unless there are viable valves to bleed off the excess in such a manner as to benefit human society at large. And needless to say that the present global financial system is diseased for the lack of such bleeder valves. And surely, if the system follows the same trajectory as of now, it is doomed to collapse in a heap in the near future. We need to learn from mother nature as to how it manages biological systems and apply the same laws to our financial systems for long term sustenance and viability. Dr Sivaram Hariharan , Bhaarath (India)
    • Mar 2 2013: I like your analogy Dr. Hariharan. The sugar aspect rings true with me. Here is why.

      When I was in school we studied 'populations'. We did an experiment where we put fruit flies in a jar with unlimited amount of food (honey). We counted the fruit flies (living) everyday and presented the data on a graph. The shape of the graph was an exponential curve (X=Y squared) starting with 2 fruit flies and curving upwards in a dramatic increase until one day there were suddenly no fruit flies. The reason why they all died suddenly was pollution. We were told that other experiments with various living things had the same results: exponential population growth ending in sudden and complete death.

      Is capitalism sustainable? Capitalism is the same expression as the fruit flies devouring the honey. It is gluttony. It is nature and it is frenzy. We are more natural than we are intelligent. Everything we do today is refined and perfected and purified like a powerful drug and like honey. Our food is full of sugar to a point that it is killing us. But what is really going to kill us is pollution. If we graph our population numbers we see the curve is rising along with an atmosphere of frenzy and the silent killer, pollution.
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        Mar 2 2013: Greg, U are so right when U say that we are more natural than intelligent. In fact, I would say that is a compliment to us humans because the intelligence governing natural systems is far far beyond what a human being could conjure at least at this point of time. Maybe, in the far future, provided we do not annihilate each other in wars and terrorism or even through suicidal eco-destruction, human intellect could catch up with this natural intelligence that is inherent in all things living and non-living in this universe. Regardless, Resource Management Systems in nature are ALWAYS regulated. There is no space for excess for even the goodies, leave alone those that are detrimental to the system. There is stringent regulation at all times and at all points so that the system does not get skewed and tips over irreversibly. That would explain the financial collapse of 2008 because the intellectual (albeit theoretical) financial derivatives that were supposed to click big time failed in the real world in absence of tough balances and checks. Each and every aspect of bio systems, starting from a simple virus cell to a complex ecosystem is finely balanced and regulated Greg. Thanks for your reply. Dr Sivaram Hariharan, Bhaarath (India).
        • Mar 8 2013: Natural systems are forced into this though. Too many wolves eat all the game, wolves then die of starvation which allow the game to recover in population thus maintaining the system. We as human are creative enough to circumvent this process by simply breeding more livestock or growing more crops. Agricultural revolution allowed for a tremendous population boom. The advancement of medicine pushed this gain higher still and continues to do so to this day. In advanced enough economies, people tend to have less children. We in the US are currently at 1.9 children per household, which is below the replacement rate. Our population would be shrinking and heading towards a more sustainable path if it were not for social security troubles forcing a looser immigration policy to meet these commitments.
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    Mar 18 2013: It depends on what we mean by sustainable. Capitalism itself just refers to people being free to trade amongst themselves. Even in the worst market failures those transactions can still go on. Peoples lives are worse, but capitalism doesn't end when it fails to deliver prosperity. Will the divide between rich and poor bring an end to capitalism? I doubt it. The poor can still trade what little they have and the rich do like to spend money (after all, why be rich and live in a tent?). Bankers can cheat, markets can collapse, giant corporations can go bankrupt, but capitalism lives on.

    The only thing that can end capitalism is a totalitarian regime that prevents people from trading amongst themselves. Can that happen? Well its possible, and perhaps more likely when the masses feel exploited by big business. Discontent gives the would be tyrants fuel for their propaganda. If that outcome is inevitable, then capitalism is unsustainable.

    What's unsustainable is what we have been getting from capitalism. Our economy is unsustainable, even if capitalism is not. In a pure free market society free of all regulation, business would catch every last fish in the sea, cut down every tree in the forest, pollute every river, and burn every last drop of oil.
  • Mar 16 2013: Most of the "poor" in the US are 1%ers on the global scale.

    When few enough people want the menial jobs, the pay will increase until those jobs are filled by those willing to do them.

    We need to get government out of commerce because monopolies almost invariably come from government favor. The small number of people with extreme wealth result from government regulation preventing competition either from other businesses or from people replacing them on the board of directors in their current company.

    Free markets are sustainable. Socialism is not. The problem with the current system in the US is that people hurt by unethical profit (fraud, poisoning air/water, whatever) cannot get justice from the court system. When that is corrected, the make-a-buck-at-all-cost folks will pay through the nose (or be imprisoned) for harming others. So to answer your question, capitalism as practiced in the US is unsustainable. An actual free society with free markets is sustainable - if we understand what liberty is instead of continually voting for people who work against it. Most people (TED viewers included) do not understand liberty and could not explain its basic tenets. Research classical liberalism to see how far astray liberalism has gone.
    • Mar 16 2013: YES! This is it exactly. What we have now in the US is not really capitalism and it's frustrating to see it designated like that. Well said sir!
    • Mar 17 2013: Ray,

      Can you define socialism in a way that Socialists would recognise, and then show how it is not sustainable?

      The OED defines it this:

      "A political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole."

      This applies to many many many systems we have in the UK, the US and literally all over the world, with which we have no problem. (except the very difficult problem of the ecological footprint which is common to public and private sector alike). Your local policeman, your medicare and your fireman is the product of a socialist philosophy - is that somehow intrinsically unsustainable? Is Denmark somehow less sustainable than the US?

      Otoh, free markets are sustaining a more and more rapid depletion of the earth's physical and biological resources. How are you going to deal with that. Sue them in court for destroying the Public Environment?

      All the courts will achieve for you is more legislative activity - crime of all sorts will increase as it becomes more normalised and the social overhead of the legal system will increase.....its already too high.

      Sorry, I don't get much of what you said in your post at all.

      Alan
  • Mar 2 2013: The issue is not capitalism, the issue is that the rich and powerful tilt the system in their favor. Proper capitalism requires that no single person or company has enough wealth to manipulate the system - i.e. bribe officials, buy out the competition, fix prices, pay the $100,000 because they're making $1,000,000 breaking the law, etc. Not that the level of wealth has to be perfectly equal, but there has to be a relatively equal level and there has to be constant movement of money I think. There also is some incentive in wanting money, and there's nothing wrong with that - as long as you remember to be more generous as you gather more wealth. As much as I appreciate people who give away millions of dollars, if that's still only 1% of your income or if you have enough money to keep you wealthy for 5 lifetimes, that's not being generous enough.

    I expect there will always be people who are "rich" and people who are "poor" but I think what Bono is mainly saying is that people don't have to be destitute anymore, and he is right I think. There's also more involved than just flat out economics I think.
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      Mar 2 2013: I think you got it right. Simplistically, capitalism is one who invests his "capital" in a manner to make a profit with the knowledge that he may not make a profit and could lose his investment. And many do.
      The problem as you point out is when cheating is going on. There seems to be a lot of that. So called crony capitalism, bribery (aka campaign contributions), to many more to list, and the worse part is that even when exposed, it is not punished.
      The morality of being charitable, I don't think can be or should be measured. If a wealthy man only gives a small percentage away, I can not say that it is enough or not enough. I am not the one to make moral judgments. Although, I will admit that I am most pleased when I hear of a generous donation to a cause I favor.
      • Mar 3 2013: I am not much for measuring specific numbers either despite what I said, but I do believe in being generous in accordance with how much money you have. This is the moral principle that I was getting at.

        I think there is a distinct difference between pointing out what should be done and going up to someone and saying "Hey you, you're not doing it right".
    • Mar 3 2013: Andrew, Capitalism IS about money tilting systems one way or the other. You are arguing for the continuance of this biased, closed-loop exchange of money in the upper reaches of Marx's "commanding heights" any time you support Big C Capitalism.

      Do not bother dragging morality into the conversation, for there is nowhere to measure it on your balance sheet. Cheating is also a relative term, not measureable in the capitalist system. Ponzi and Madoff were financial geniuses until they got caught. The current "investigations" (stage show) into the too-big-to hold-accountable-to-any-laws corporate giants are a marker for the end times of the Capitalist Agenda. We are in the Randian dream of complete societal control by an oligarchial elite; the spigot is almost in place on the Fountainhead.

      Monsanto wants a monopoly on food, so we are giving it to them. Bechtel is buying the water rights to the third world. And the IMF and World Bank continue to mandate destruction of native ecosystem as the ticket for inclusion to the new world economy, despite any local sentiment otherwise. And you guys want to think it is a handful of bad actors?

      The Capitalist system is governed by a good book; unfortunately it is The Prince, and absolute power is going to be awfully hard to overcome as it is, without all this talk about how at least the trains run on time...
      Like religion we find inconvenient, we start relabeling the parts of our scipture we find distasteful. ALL capitalism is crony capitalism at some level, most trades are inside trades (if done by any financial institution). The key tenet to the religion at question is "money rules". Moral dilemma? See rule one. Ethical question? See rule one. This is not a sustainable model, as no unjust system ever is, but a lot of money will fight to hold onto it as long as possible. And as long as capital creates a commanding height, there will be a fight for that real estate. We must create more parity in capital to acieve social justice
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        Mar 3 2013: capitalizing words does not constitute an argument. "money tilting system" is a meaningless term. you are so far away from understanding how the economy works, it is painful to watch
        • Mar 14 2013: Witnessing the world's most eminent economists all scratching their heads wondering what to do next, is painful to watch.
          It would appear, to me, that there are only two types of economists. The first one knows it is all a con and the other pretends to know what he is talking about, like the emperors new clothing.
          As others have commented, capitalism is the problem not the solution. It is a system that encourages bad behaviour. We don't legislate against good behaviour it's for all the bad.
      • Mar 3 2013: The fact that people corrupted what grew out of the pure seed does not mean that the seed is not pure.

        Capitalism in America is pretty messed up, it is systemically messed up all over the world even, but once you start to understand capitalism as it was intended before people started screwing with it for their own benefit you will see that in of itself it is a good idea.

        Every good idea has been corrupted or misunderstood at some point or another. It's just part of the standard of living in this world. You have to get good at seeing what is pure and hanging onto those individual parts of systems and ideas. Most people don't learn that though I think because most people don't ever grow up and start questioning their assumptions and using honest logic. It is way to easy to use blinders to see the world.

        Edit:
        All across human understanding you run into two ideas: something that is posited, which either means assumed to exist or describes something the way it should be, and normative, which is how it actually is. So basically what is going on is I am talking about positive capitalism and you are talking about normative capitalism. It's an important distinction to draw I think.
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    Feb 27 2013: I think the poverty that Bono spoke about was "extreme poverty" - Coming from Africa I get the feeling that the kind of poverty that is experienced around the world is very subjective. Using words like poverty are infective - I know people who are rich in culture, family, natural and resources, fresh air, clean water and happiness. But are convinced that they are poor because they don't' have cash or a TV. I don't think that our current model of capital is sustainable beacuse it does not capture natural assets or their services, nor does it capture the costs of exploitation and use. Capitalism 's causing the utter destruction of natural environments and like Salgado said, "it's a complete contradiction to develop by destroying everything around us". I work on elephant conservation and it is capitalism that drives lust for ivory in Asia, and it's this lust that is driving elephants to extinction. The rarer the elephants the more valuable the ivory, which is driving the poaching .. it's a vicious cycle.
  • Feb 27 2013: i think yes, but not in the current way capitalism is pursued. getting rich by doing well is great, getting rich by ensuring that funds go to you instead of others is not.

    for example if your product is more convenient and useful then you'll ell more and make more money, which is great capitalism. say your profits are up 10% thanks to the hard work of the employees but only a 5% pay increase is given even though they were responsible for increasing production by 10%, that is wrong. so is firing an employee who has worked hard just because you found someone who will do it for less, or firing a couple of employees and then making the others cover the workload. clearly keeping lower wages low for the sole purpose of raising wages that are already higher is wrong. everybody should get the same % increase.

    personally i favour a 'benjamin franklin law' - an upper limit on wealth, say anything above $2m a year to be taxed at 100%. the name because ben franklin got extremely rich from his printing business, and instead of going for more and more he realised that he had more than enough yearly income to live extremely comfortably on, and started to work on scientific research, deliberately not patenting his discoveries in order to give back to the society that had given him so much.

    i think it's important to remember that every dollar someone has is a dollar that someone else doesn't have, we don't ever make any money. there's nothing wrong with pursuing wealth and riches, however there is something very wrong with enriching yourself at the cost of others, who similarly must be allowed to pursue wealth and riches.
  • Mar 18 2013: Let me suggest some counter-points about the pro- or anti-capitalism:
    1. Capitalism, in my view, has existed long before the modern version of capitalism. For example if a person had a skill or talent like an artist or musician or an architect, even someone having good business sense, he would gain wealth and power under even the feudal system whenever their talent was appreciated by those in power. Even without too much of a monetary system, an excellent craftsman can demand lot of money OR other commodity OR real estate in exchange for his "products" The only difference from then and now is the tremendous improvement of media communication as well as the industrial productivity.
    2. It seems to me that the switch from the feudal system to the modern democracy had only a chaotic buffer zone, that is rather poignant, such as the French revolution and the communism under Stalin and Mao. The communist regimes claimed the wealth redistribution with complete destruction of capitalism. However, the results, put in a simplistic term, turns out to have all poor people and nothing else.
    3. The continuation of emperors by family inheritance was similar to a random drawing of a "ruler", but the system produced, at best, a 50-50 chance of a good or bad rulers.
    4. In comparing the livelihood of the "poor" in the past and now' from an objective view, I think the current poor are still a little better than before. More precisely there were still concentration of wealth in a precious few under the feudal system anyway.
    5. The government structure of a democracy should be strictly adhere to the initial Constitution, with shorter term limits. The 2 major parties should occupy one quarter each of the congressional seats, and at lease 30% of the seats should be allotted to independent candidates nominated by the voters in each state. Any amendment to the Constitution should be approved by 90% of all the states. Any change in tax rates should be approved by super majority in congress.
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      Mar 18 2013: Bart, you have good points. If I may, address a few that I believe could be tweaked.
      I am not sure how the change of the two parties in congress on a timely basis would create the stability you address. I see not much difference in the 2 major parties as we have. The self described fringe elements are the only definable differences between the two. Further I am not sure there would be 30% of independents available. Most Americans are committed to the banners of the 2 major parties.
      I think that a 67% approval rate is sufficient to amend the constitution. A higher rate could be more difficult to get any agreement. The last amendment passed was first proposed as the 11th amendment in the bill of rights. That's 200 years ago. I understand we have a number of proposed amendments still pending ratification. I have no problem with a tax to support the Federal Government, but the 16th amendment is an open check. CJSCOTUS pointed that out last year when the Healthcare bill was passed. We need a fairly proportioned tax, but the tax should be sufficient to operate a Federal Government. It was not intended to fund every hair brained idea that could be conjectured no matter how noble it was painted to be.
      The Federal Government is the most wasteful in the expensing of funds. That is why I have proposed limiting the scope of the Federal government to just those tasks specifically addressed in the constitution and to relook/repeal all the programs the Feds have taken on.
      • Mar 18 2013: Mike, I had read your previous comment on the limitation of the structure of the Federal government.. I fully support the limiting government functions and spending, but in my opinion, the limiting of the government structure can never be completed if we are in grid lock and the Congress is monopolized by the two major parties. For example the Democratic Party are unilaterally increasing the bureaus or sub-agencies under each of the departments even when you restrict the number of departments. So if the Congress is consisted of subgroups of independents, then it can restrict even such sneaky attacks by the administration or a single party by cutting off the funding of any such expansion. This unique weapon with the congress was really the very correct stipulation in the constitution. However, the majority party and the president could skirt this congressional power by passing no budgets, and also by illegal recess appointments which is now in court fight.
        The election of the congressional members can be done by by cutting back the number of congressional districts and add on a number of at-large members from statewide nomination with a loosened minimum endorsement requirement for the independent candidates.
        We can use any other methods for such structural composition in the congress. But the important point is that we should definitely crack the two-party rule so that there could be less gridlock and monopoly (duopoly?) of this important constitutional function and intent.
    • Mar 22 2013: 1) It seems we have devolved back to a feudal system, albeit global and without boundaries. The "Lords of the Forbes List" have an aristocratic hold on political bodies, no different than in the past.
      2) I like the Parliamentary System where you vote locally, the party with the most seats is in control, unless not majority and need to form a coalition government. The party selects the leader, but if within 6 years, he or she gets a no confidence vote, then new elections are held and quickly.
      3) Profoundly said earns a TED Cred
  • Mar 16 2013: The capitalism we know, which I refer to as American Capitalism, is most definitely NOT sustainable.

    Capitalism is not, as is assumed in its American form, a socio-economic system. It is solely an economic system. It is one of the two major systems at work in our society; the other is the social system. Two different systems. Two different goals. Two different methods of meeting those goals.

    The part of our society that allows direct line inheritance of wealth is more part of the social system than of the economic system It is a holdover from feudalism. It is the rot at the heart of the whole society we have developed.

    Capitalism MUST be competitive in order to operate properly. It MUST be relatively fair in order to be long term sustainable. Our present form of capitalism is neither.

    We can correct these problems by having generational inheritance of wealth instead of direct line inheritance. This means that the wealth of anyone who dies would be shared up amongst those who are born. Thus all members of society would receive a relatively identical birthright/inheritance. This would allow of fair competition as all would start from roughly the same starting line.

    This also keeps the money moving. The whole population can spend a lot more money than a few rich kids. We ALL contribute to the wealth that our society creates. We ought to ALL benefit by it. The ability of a few members of our society to amass large portions of the wealth that is created by all of us, working in co-operation with each other, is killing our society.

    In a society where we use capitalist economics as a tool to meet social needs, we'll not have poverty. Poverty is created by some few people having a majority of the wealth. They have NOT "earned" this wealth - only found ways to amass it.

    Citizens' Capitalism, where the social system controls the economic system is the only way to ensure that capitalism - a fine economic system basically - MUST serve the society. Not vice-versa!
    • Mar 16 2013: Hear, hear Larry, fine points. Unfortunately I don't think generational inheritance of wealth instead of direct line inheritance will ever occur. Oligarchs will sell their businesses to their kids for a dollar.

      Capitalism in its current form is inherently biased, discriminatory and unfair. A seemingly fickle case in point is not every musician can be a pop star. Many unknown musicians are more talented than many pop stars so it's not talent that dictates who rises to the top but often less savory aspects such as which talent can be manipulated by managers and record companies.

      On a societal level when I was a kid my 6th grade teacher hypothesized that technology would enable us to work a 4 day week because it would drive down the cost of living and automate many jobs. 35 years later and I don't see any sign of society doing a 4 day week and while technology has driven down the cost of doing business for many companies they haven't reciprocated by paying people the same to work a day less.

      Another case in point being that capitalism is elitist. If you come into this world with a low IQ or a mental/physical deficiency, or you acquire one along the way then pure capitalism will throw you to the wolves. In it's purist form it doesn't have a social conscience. So I don't think it is sustainable in its current form. And unless the richest 10% contribute a lot more to the social fabric of society then as history has shown us revolutions often follow. Only today kings have been replaced by corporations. Many as unethical as their royal predecessors.

      I personally like the idea of capitalism. You get out what you put in. Theoretically. Only it doesn't always work out that way and you often get less than you put in due to an advantage your competition has over you. When that advantage is fair then fair enough, but fair advantage is often a euphemism that someone hasn't done their job properly and achieved an unfair advantage. Which is what the top 10% have now.
      • Mar 16 2013: Steve,
        In our present form of capitalism it is able, as you say, to be what it is. Take especial note that I divide the society's major systems and do not amalgamate them as in present day thinking. What has happened is that the economic system, capitalism, has come to dominate the social system. We now try to live according to the dictates of what is good for the economic system. This is the tail wagging the dog.

        It is not proper or workable for the economic system to determine the precepts of the social system. We do NOT form societies for the benefit of economic systems. We form societies for the benefit of people.

        Now, before we get off on a tangent by blaming the capitalist economic system for all the ills of the society, let me make clear that the economic system is doing what it is wont to do in the exact way that best benefits it. That is its nature. It is up to us to take control of it and use it as the tool that we want it to be. We do that through our social system. It is the job of the social system to establish rules and laws that control the economic system.

        I often liken a capitalist economic system to fire - a wonderful tool when kept firmly in check - but a terrible master if allowed to follow its own nature. Capitalists likewise are NOT evil people who want to turn us all into poverty-stricken slaves. They merely do what is best for their own parts of the economic system. That system rewards them handsomely. But that wealth is NOT created by capitalists. It is created by the whole society and is amassed by capitalists. Our laws allow this.

        And that is our downfall. We have failed to control how the economic system operates and it has taken over our social system. It now dominates us to the point that we even try to live with each other in a dog-eat-dog fashion in our social lives!

        We need, desperately, to get control of the fire. It must be made to work for us - not us for it.
        • Mar 17 2013: Quite right Larry. I like the fire analogy too.

          > It is the job of the social system to establish rules and laws that control the economic system.
          ...
          > We need, desperately, to get control of the fire. It must be made to work for us - not us for it.

          This is a very interesting point but not as easy to accomplish as one might think. Here in Australia we had the government recently try and introduce a mining royalties tax on "massive profits". This was in light of the fact that around 85% of mining profits were going offshore and that the mining companies had hugely whittled down what they pay in tax over the last 15 years.

          Well, as you can imagine the mining companies came out swinging. The ads on TV were almost laughable. Depicting the average Joe saying jobs would be decimated with this tax. It was such a load of rubbish as any thinking person knew there would always be a demand for the resources but of course it had its desired result for the mining companies. A Prime Minister got knifed by his own team even though his popularity was super high in the electorate and the new PM effectively let the mining companies write the rules. The tail wagging the dog as you say. And in the end the government got no boost in revenue as the mining companies sidestepped the little they had to pay. And this is what I hate about the current use of capitalism by the mega rich.

          To top it off the opposition government came out saying they'd abolish the mining profits tax and the carbon tax. A move in my opinion designed to virtually decimate our society in light of the pollution caused by burning coal.

          As I mentioned, the corporations rule the roost and won't relinquish that power anytime soon. The evidence is all around us. Bankers still ripping off the system while the anti Wall St movement has run out of puff.

          The next Bilderberg Group meeting would be where to aim any opposition to how capitalism is being abused. If you can find it...http://g0.to/bilderberg
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      Mar 16 2013: What is it about "wealth"... I will assume you're speaking about those with financial wealth and not a wealth of talents... that upsets people. Macro capitalist ( big corporations) gamble zillions and could loose it all. I hear none of those with your opinion that mourn those who have lost great fortunes. Just the ones that have been successful. Where does it say that society creates financial wealth. most society is employed by capitalist. It is not that they are working for free, they get a salary every week.
      That is their return on their investment of time and effort. If the company they work for goes broke tomorrow, they have lost a job. The owner may have lost everything, his house, all his financial assets, everything. But, if the owner is successful and has a great return on his investment, you make it sound like that is terribly wrong... How come it is only wrong in one direction....
      Equality is not part of your morality?
      • Mar 16 2013: Mike,
        Do not put words in my mouth and then ask me to explain. I DID NOT ever say that one who is successful should not enjoy all the rewards of that success. He should indeed enjoy his wealth so long as it is understood that he could not have gotten that wealth if not for the society in which he is established. A society that provided him with the opportunity and probably the labour and professional employees that he needed.

        That labour must be fairly and properly compensated - none of this paying slave wages nonsense - and he must operate his company as a good corporate citizen without trying to stuff his pockets at the expense of other citizens or the society. A corporation must be morally and ethically responsible and answer to the society in which it operates. That society must establish the laws that keep the economic system - and all parts of that system, including corporations, banks, etc. - in strict control. It is the social system that has this task. It is the lawgiver.

        Upon his death his wealth should be joined with all the wealth of those who've died in a set period (perhaps 3 years) and shared up as a birthright inheritance for all the children born in that same period of time. In this way the wealth, that essentially came from the efforts of the whole society, will be returned to that society. That will give all the children an economically equal start in life. Unlike socialism, that wealth will not be communally owned but will be the private property of the children who inherit it as a birthright. This is very simple; all children will inherit a portion of the wealth of the society in exactly the way the rich man's children inherit his wealth at present. This puts the competition that is at the heart of capitalism on a level playing field; no one born so poor that they cannot compete and no one born so rich that they've already won the competition. In this way all people can live a better life than any socialist system could ever hope to provide.
        • Mar 16 2013: I'm sorry but we all pay taxes for that exact reason: To provide ourselves with a government that keeps the peace. After we've paid taxes then we have no obligation to give the government our hard earned money. If I want to give my money to my kids that's MY right, not your right. If i want to give it to charity, that's also my right. If i want to light it on fire, that's my right. You can't tell ME what to do with MY money. HANDS OFF
      • Mar 17 2013: Mike, Tyler,

        It's nothing about wealth or anyone being envious or trying to steal your money. It's a lot to do with institutionalised unfairness and a culture of selfishness which things are trashing MY society and MY planet.

        I live here and wish to continue doing so. I'm personally keen to build a social system where I am able to live peacefully without people like you disrespectfully trespassing on my commons. I breathe the same air as you and drink the same water. We share - get used to it.


        Your pathetic obsessions of private property are creating real problems all over the planet so Respectfully, if you don't like it on this Earth where you bave to share please go elsewhere. If you can do that without creating excess carbon dioxide and other pollution that would be preferable.
    • Mar 17 2013: Larry,
      I really like your train of thought particularly on generational inheritance - but I'm afraid we're going to fall out over your description of capitalism as an economic system. I think it is actually a religion at best, a political system, or an evil conspiracy cheat the honest of their rightful share at worst.- many, not all, economic functions it delivers can be better achieved by other means.
      • Mar 17 2013: Alan,
        Sorry sir, but I think that capitalism is only an economic system. As such it is a tool that ought to be used by the social system to further social goals and ends. I think you may be confusing what Americans call capitalism - which is their whole society, with the economic system that has come to dominate their whole society. They are wrong.

        The prime reason for this confusion may be that they've not really understood what their social system is, how it works, and what it is for. Thus you have a nation that was set up as a republic trying to operate as a democracy.

        Once you mix the social system with the economic system of a country it becomes very hard to determine where one leaves off and the other begins. In the case of America it has long been mixed and few bother to differentiate the two systems.

        The social system is the prime system. It is the expression of the will of the people. It has responsibility for determining which economic system the society will make use of to reach the goals of that society.

        You may disagree with me but I think that capitalism is an excellent system when not mixed with holdovers from previous systems such as direct-line inheritance from feudalism. It is a dangerous tool to be sure. It must be constantly watched over and regulated strictly. It can never be allowed to get out of hand or to control the social system. Most of those things you say you think are "capitalism", are not. They are part of the social system. Do not confuse the goals or methods of each system with those of the other.

        The proper goal of capitalism is to create wealth. It does so mindlessly. That's its job. It is not required to consider social goals or methods. It is up to the society to establish social controls over its economic system. Capitalism when treated as a tool as dangerous as fire, and strictly controlled, will work for the benefit of the entire society. But that control is absolutely necessary if it is not to burn our butts!
        • Mar 18 2013: Larry, I agree there is a confusion of language and do t disagree with the way you clarify it. But is'nt the term "crony capitalism " relevant in all countries with capitalist economies to some extent, with business interest cosying up to government through lobbying?

          Is this some turning in point in history where commerce and Government separate, in order that a clear direction can be set for our human / social needs?
  • Mar 13 2013: I think that capitalism is not sustainable because it is build on constant growt and creating debt ,and creating money out of nothing.
    We live in a overproduction environment wich brainwashes us sending us impulses through media wich products we have to buy in order to create a desire for it
    All over the world this system is collapsing Europe,USA,and soon we will find out that we depend on eachother because everything is connected .
    Humanity should strive to give every citizen of this planet their basic needs (food ,shelter,healthcare,education) all products that are not urgent we can do without.
    By doing this we create an environment where everybody cares for eachother and create other values then just money.
  • Mar 11 2013: Luke, you bring up a very valid point. However, I believe you are missing a very important fact, and that is some people truly enjoy working, as you call them, menial jobs. My father was a semi truck driver, and he said that he loved it. My uncle spends his days working cattle, and he loves what he is doing with his life. The summer before my Freshman year of college I was a roofer and concrete man on a crew, and I loved what I did. There are men I've worked with who have spent their lives in these "menial" jobs, and they love it. However, there are some that do not. The difference, though, is these men explain why they are doing what they are doing. Mostly, that they made mistakes in their decision making at a young age, and they were unable to escape the consequences. These men don't hold their wealthy fellow Americans responsible for their financial success. These men I've worked with in "menial" jobs in my opinion are noble, wise, and able to earn enough income for necessities.

    Another fact missed is the confusion of true poverty with that of relative poverty. Within the United states there is a significant amount of relative poverty. Relative to Bill Gates most of us are poor, and unable to afford all the amazing things he can. The beautiful thing about capitalism is that if you notice the wealthy begin by getting the "nice" things all to themselves. However, as time goes on those who are relatively poor to the wealthy begin getting the wealthiest bunch's "nice things". The point I am trying to make is that there will always be relative poverty, because it's human nature to compare how well off one is to another. However, we have the ability to use capitalism to minimize actual poverty, and to move on from there. This is such an exciting time to be alive. We have the chance to see the world completely shift, and it is human innovation through capitalism that got us to this point and human innovation through capitalism that will take us forward.
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      Mar 11 2013: Nicely said sir.
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      Mar 11 2013: I could not have said it better.
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      Mar 12 2013: Interesting. But I am not sure, particularly after reading your second para, if you are basing your judgement about 'niceness' of capitalism with a particular country in mind or globally. You taked about relative and true poverty. Here is a reality check.
      #At least 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day.
      #More than 80 percent of the world’s population lives in countries where income differentials are widening.
      #The poorest 40 percent of the world’s population accounts for 5 percent of global income. The richest 20 percent accounts for three-quarters of world income.
      #According to UNICEF, 22,000 children die each day due to poverty. And they “die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death.
      #Around 27-28 percent of all children in developing countries are estimated to be underweight or stunted. The two regions that account for the bulk of the deficit are South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
      #If current trends continue, the Millennium Development Goals target of halving the proportion of underweight children will be missed by 30 million children, largely because of slow progress in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
      #Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names.
      #Less than one per cent of what the world spent every year on weapons was needed to put every child into school by the year 2000 and yet it didn’t happen.

      Capitalism is followed almost all over the world. Looks like there is a lot of unfinished business.
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      Mar 12 2013: Well said but I would have to kindly disagree w/most of what you just said.

      it is great that your father and the other individuals you mentioned loved their jobs but you can't possibly credit capitalism for them loving their jobs. They have grown to love what they did because they had no choice but to stick to what they were doing (that is if I read your response right). It is almost like the case with Sisyphus pushing the rock up the hill only to have it fall down again. For me that is a problem because it leaves no room for advancement or the freedom to try out other things. Once again it is great that you and the people you know enjoyed what you did for that is rare but I do not think its an argument for capitalism.

      I think you have to understand the harsh reality of capitalism. People are not perfect. Everyone is going to make mistakes with some being more damning than others. Although it may be an individual responsibility that person should have the chance and opportunity to change their life. You can't have that in capitalism. It is possible but if rags to riches stories were common they would not be as remarkable.

      What you said about relative poverty is somewhat true. In the U.S. what we call poverty will be middle class in other cultures. Someone like me who does not make that much of an income, is in the top 20% compared to the rest of the world. We ignore the fact that other people work for only 30cents a day.

      Capitalism in theory sounds nice. If you are referring to capitalism that Adam Smith proposed in the wealth of nations, I am with you but that is not the case in the real world. If you haven't noticed the happiest places to live are not capitalistic countries, it the N.European socialist countries. According to Gallup polls, the U.S. was ranked #11.

      All in all, if i had to paint a vision for the future, it would be modeled off the N.European counties as opposed to capitalistic ones!!!!
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      Mar 13 2013: Why should labourer's work be valued so poorly? I think every person has a right to safe work conditions, including a reasonable sleeping pattern in the case of truck drivers, and should have a reasonable share of the profits for their labour and expertise. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with any labour. All labour is honourable.
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        Mar 13 2013: I'm not saying labor work is bad but that in a capitalist system it eventually leaves little room for advancement. I respect the fact that we have people who are willing to do the dirty and hard labor. I just don't think they can be truly represented in a capitalist system
      • Mar 13 2013: Oft times, I have been witness to the phenomenon, "oh he/she's just a janitor, a rock-crusher etc.," being uttered by children at play. The pervasive attitude that ones place in the work-a-day arena dictates their place within societal acceptance is, like it or not, part of the human-condition within any society. I only use my own experience in reflection, as I am guilty of the same misconceptions surrounding this issue that afflicts mankind to varying degrees. Nonetheless, it exists.
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          Mar 15 2013: I must say Robert, this is a social value that is extremely parochial. Its may be true in the U.S.A but in other parts of the globe the social perception of the value of a certain kind of labour varies tremendously. In France for example, many forms of manual labour have artisan status and there are other examples. In the U.S the janitor and the shoe salesman are virtual untouchables, but that is not the case here in New Zealand. I am a Lecturer in a Tertiery Institute, the woman who cleans my classroom and I are friends. If my daughter was to bring home her son as a boyfriend, I would not have a problem with it.
  • Mar 3 2013: Capitalism encourage competition and competition in a healthy/fair environment make us better. I think we have to go back and revise the rules of the game starting with the international trade. In order for the economy to grow in a healthy way, I think the rules has to be fair and transparent for us, and for our neighbors if they want to play.

    Now, I don't think there are menial jobs and that your income determine if you are poor. If you have a job and manage to put a roof over your head and food on your table I don't think you are poor. By the same token, if you have to wake up every single day to work, even if you are making millions, you are not rich - you are just a well compensated worker.

    The level of satisfaction is different for each person; some people need millions - others are ok with thousands $. It is absurd to think that everybody needs a Ferrari to be happy, although that is what Ferrari's CEO want you to believe, LOL!
    • Mar 14 2013: Capitalist want to make money, the easier the better, that's why there's such things as monopolies and cartels.
      A millionaire doesn't need to get up in the morning to work to put food on the table, he will not go hungry.
  • Mar 1 2013: "Yes it is sustainable as their is no practicing alternative in the world."

    Really? We have no model that doesn't have crime, poverty, injustice, or ecological collapse, so I guess we are just stuck with those too? I love the argument that failed Communism means Capitalism has been proven right, because false syllogism is a function of all fundamentalist thinking, and fundamentalist Capitalists are just as easy to disprove as any other fundamentalist religion. Lovell's assumption that the reasons for black poverty are economic ones furthers my point; like most fundamental thinking, the ability to see anything other than one's own paradigm is a given. Might I suggest that prejudice had more to do with a downtrodden black people than economic circumstance? I belive the former begat the latter, not vice versa. And an educated black man of the period was not an equal, just "uppity". So dies that theory...

    But none of this addresses the question. Is capitalism sustainable? And the answer (which I had thought self evident, but there are none so blind as those who will not see) is no. Capitalism's key requirement is an expanding market. Should that become impossible, Capitalism crashes. As we live on a finite planet, with finite space and resources, population eventually must come to a standstill, meaning, inevitably, markets will follow. We are in the first stages of this contraction already, with predictable economic results (wildly increasing food and oil prices, resource conflicts, etc.).

    So like all fundamentalists, the Capitalists will argue that business is the answer to all our problems (apologies to Mr's Gore and Gates, but that is Ayn Rand revisited; the problem cannot be the solution). And indeed, many issues facing the planet today (whether you deny them or not) are mostly borne of this capitalist agenda (global warming, cultural destruction, the shrinking middle class, etc.). Capitalism is not the answer, it's the problem...
    • Mar 2 2013: I agree with you about that the unhindered expansion of reckless capitalism will not succeed without some system to rein them in. On the other hand, we also have "pseudo-democracy" in which politicians got elected by "promising the moon" to promote "reckless" welfare states. Look what that ended up with in the countries they "administered"' nowadays. As to the earth environment and resource problems, we wont solve them until the strong nationalism is seriously checked, so that majority of the countries are willingly to cooperate to develop their economy and total wealth for all the people on earth. With the current chaotic political and economic system on earth, there won't be a system of any kind, including the capitalism, to satisfy each and all of us. Unfortunately, sometimes good intentions may not be the best solution.
      In summary, I am not saying whether capitalism can or can't be sustained. Just like every one said here, that there are no other workable systems existed up to now. Rather I would suggest that we have to look at the other auxiliary or co-required social/political/economic system to make it work for all of us.
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    Feb 28 2013: With Great Power comes Great Responsibility. That quote was not just for the poor, but for the wealthy and all other in between. Capitalism can be sustainable, however all participants have to understand their roles. The most successful have the resources and the knowledge to teach, not give away, their knowledge and create opportunity for the middle class and the poor.The middle class has the responsibility to teach the poor how to rise up from day to day survival. The poor have to be willing to learn and take advantage of the opportunity. We cannot have a capitalism run by people who are afraid because they live a life of lack and limitation. That creates hopelessness, irresponsibility, and hatred. Every one just wants respect. If we can understand that our knowledge is not for us to keep, but to help others rise up, then capitalism will last forever.
  • Mar 26 2013: What an excellent and important topic and discussion. Thank you.

    In my view, capitalism boils down to personal interest (i.e., MY money, MY house, MY land, etc.) which is an immature motive and no basis for society. Truly civil society relies on inclusive, charitable motives, the relief of suffering, broadbased investments in human potential, contributions for a better world -- not more useless, wasteful and/or heartless money-making projects. "Getting and spending we lay waste our power."

    If capitalism is to benefit us all, perhaps its misguided motives could be redirected with strict and wise regulation, protected whistleblowers, tax incentives and penalties to keep its focus wholesome and productive. My guess it that capitalism might also be a lot healthier without its roots in a Central Banking system, too.

    Capitalism's self-serving habits tend to result in unprincipled conduct, low standards, addiction. A symptom of this moral rot is to note how some corporations and uber rich specialize not in contributing to the world, but in trying to get away with something. Its my contention that honesty -- not dishonesty -- is a true solution and antidote to ills. If deceit and dishonesty are capitalism's 'big' ideas, then, to my mind, it's just another scam.

    Society is a team sport, not golf. A machine can make money. So what? Money is just one tool used to achieve a larger objective. What's the larger objective? Capitalism of the unregulated variety has mainly benefitted some golfers and big bankers, not the whole team. Had Jonas Salk been kept poor and uneducated, worldwide suffering from polio would be with us still.

    In my view, it's to our profound advantage to relieve suffering, eliminate poverty--not just for its heartfelt virtue and charity. To quote Stephen Jay Gould, ""I am somehow less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein's brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweat shops."
  • Mar 22 2013: OK, I better begin by saying that I have not read any of the comments below. But, after our tax bill due this April, I am beginning to believe that the U.S. government is going to achieve equality of the people -- making us all equally POOR. Seriously, our tax burden has reached the point where we are becoming poor!
    • Mar 22 2013: Tax Policy is income redistribution, in our case upwards. The wealthy work harder to keep their money than they do to make it. Those who pay less proportion of tax are the ones who cry about entitlements like Welfare. Conveniently, they forget get about tax breaks that equal Wealthcare. Worried about those who get $1000 a month and forgetting tax breaks worth millions. Selective interpretation that Social Security and Medicare are entitlements, when in reality those have been paid for every day that a person worked, by the WORKER. I assume you don't have access to a legislator who will go out of his way to reward a donor with legislation that only favors the Plutocrat. State Referendums are the equivalent of a Citizen Veto and Constitutional Amendment is like a Citizen Legislature. This may be our only hope to reverse the Oligarchic Plutocracy we have become and the Class Warfare it is spawning. The Revolution can not be violent based on the opponent would be the most powerful military, but the revolution against apathy, which has allowed greed to take hold, must be fought.
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        Mar 22 2013: All this time, I thought that we pay taxes to receive some services from a government that we as citizens could not or would not provide for our selves, ie. police and fire departments, good public roads, defense of our country, (effective) schools for our children. Now, I want to be charitable to my neighbors in need, I don't want the government to tell me how charitable or who my neighbors are in need. That's no longer charity, that's redistribution of my wealth.
        When that happens I am not feeling love, I am feeling ripped off. I think there should be inspectors of meats that I buy to insure it's quality. I should not be told how much meat I can consume by that government or some individual who does not eat meat. It is neither's business what I consume, it is my pursuit of barbecue happiness.
        • Mar 22 2013: Government services? For over 1K a week in income taxes I live on an unpaved road with no mail delivery.

          How about the financial burden being placed on us all for calorie labeling? Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, but it will NOT make fat people thin and healthy. The only ones reading the labels are those already eating healthy.

          Interesting anecdote--I have heard that some Mexicans, and other foreigners, are actually leaving the US because we have too many rules & regulations. They have more personal freedom in their own countries than they do here. Interesting thought.
        • Mar 22 2013: Mike and Winifred,
          Redistribution of wealth has been carried on as class warfare by the wealthy. Warren Buffet, America's second richest man, said, “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning." In the 1960s the highest incomes in America were about three times that of the median. Today incomes of the top 1% range from five times to thousands of times the current median. This was brought about by union busting, employing undocumented workers paid under the table, and shipping jobs out of our country. In addition, "trickle down" economics led to lower taxes on those highest earners. It now takes two full time workers in a family to get by less well than a single wage earner in the 1950s.

          And, Winifred, if you pay weekly taxes of $1k and live somewhere like the area the unibomber chose, that is by your choice because you could well afford a home in the affluent parts of suburbia, unlike some poor I know who have no choice,--and many with no choice but to live on the street.

          And, by the way, when you wealthy have shipped a $50,000 US job, with the taxes that job paid, overseas, and that worker now labors for $12,500 a year, paying much less taxes than he did, so executive pay could be so much higher, why do you whine if you have to make up that tax loss by paying higher rates on your aggrandized wealth?
  • Mar 20 2013: There are really two questions being discussed, with many undefined or poorly defined terms. One question is whether capitalism is sustainable. The other question is whether poverty can be eradicated within a capitalistic society. If the question is purely whether capitalism is sustainable, the answer is yes. If the question on the author's mind is really about wiping out poverty under capitalism, there are many facets that need to be considered.

    Poverty is not only an economic condition, it is also a state of mind as well as a moniker applied to lower income or non earned income people. It is used to define a class of people in an economic condition without regard as to why they are in that condition. It is used to describe a condition in this country that is considered middle class in other places in the world.

    A different, yet corollary question is: Can poverty be eradicated? The answer to that question is a simple no. The reason that the answer to this question is so easy is that there are people, no matter what you do for them or what you give them, will never seek to work their way out of their situation. In fact, the more you give them, the more they will be willing to take without effort.

    Please don't mistake what I'm saying. I am NOT saying that people who are in poverty are lazy. What I am saying is that human nature is also a factor. People who do not have to work to get rewards have no incentive to work for more rewards. People who do work for fewer and fewer rewards will tend to not work as hard and begin to expect the same rewards that those who do not work get.

    The bottom line is that eradicating poverty has nothing to do with capitalism. If it did, then you would not see any poverty in communistic or socialistic societies. Yet, poverty is rampant under those governments. Far more so that under capitalism.
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      Mar 21 2013: Hi Marc,

      i wonder why your only answer to the question whether capitalism is sustainable is "yes" (with no details)? is it that obvious to you?

      Speaking of poverty, did you know that most poor people do work? You can't eradicate poverty by giving people money or any rewards. it's all about the political and social system which does not create opportunities for all people to have a decent life. this is why poverty has a lot to do with capitalism
      • Mar 22 2013: As to your first question, it is that obvious. When the first person on Earth decided that the benefits of his or her labor belonged to him or her and not the entire community, that was the birth of capitalism and it has flourished ever since. It is sustainable as long as the people who work are allowed to keep their rewards, or at least enough of their rewards to keep them happy.

        Do I know that poor people work? Of course I do. Do I believe that a capitalistic society provides fewer opportunities to advance one's own condition than any other form of social experiment? Absolutely not!

        America is rife with stories of people who have advanced themselves through education and perspiration. Education is achieved through learning, not teaching. Like the horse led to water who does not drink, a person can be taught many things, but without the desire to learn, the results are for naught. Perspiration is achieved through the willingness and desire to do better and be better. People who advance themselves have both these qualities and have spent their lives practicing both.

        This is not to say that everyone who has the desire to learn and put all their efforts into their toils will achieve monetary and social advancement, but the chances of doing so under capitalism are far better than under anything else.
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    Mar 20 2013: I do not think capitalism is sustainable. From the first time (thousands of years ago) one person decided to charge another person "a little bit more" for his/her own benefit, THAT is when capitalism became unsustainable. Capitalism uses "supply and demand". People and corporations who use "supply and demand" for profit ruin any possiblity for capitalism to work.

    If you would like me to explain further, I can for just 29.95 plus shipping and handling. (restrictions may apply, monthly charges will begin without you knowing)
    • Mar 22 2013: Corporations demand they be supplied with Profit. The intended consequence is Guaranteed Profit, but also Guaranteed Poverty. I like your satirical ending (you forgot the bonus for those who respond right now, just pay extra shipping and handling), but you highlighted my "theory" on: Less Terms of Service and More Customer Service. My point is, Corporations and/or Wealthy Individuals have stacked the deck in favor of them, always.
      How does Exxon/Mobil make a steady 25% profit, per quarter? This is not Capitalism, the opposite of Communism, it is Corporationism. All situations between the customer and the Corp are in the Corp's favor, just read ALL the fine print. Legitimate grievances may be blocked by "Tort Reform", if not obliterated in court by a "Big Lawyer" firm. We have the most important terms in fine print and legislation crafted by non Legislators, with the prize buried so deep and subject to some "magical" comma for interpretation. In Capitalism the customer is "always right", In Corporationism the CEO is always right.
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        Mar 22 2013: Hello,

        I agree, but because I read the response I have to charge you 29.95. :)

        (watch out for late fees)
        • Mar 22 2013: SUE ME. I sue for Peace. I sue for Liberty. I sue for Philosophy
  • Mar 14 2013: Capitalism as it is currently practiced in America is a runaway train bound for calamity. You can call that unsustainability if you need to. In order for it to become a non-train wreck capitalism cannot continue to be practiced as a massive singular totality with evangelists and ideologues insisting on the exclusion of other models. It is ironic that with the Cold War in which the world went to the brink of annihilation over two opposing totalities that the salvation of the system that declared itself the winner (no one won, it was only a matter of who lost more) and perhaps the salvation of the human condition is a reconcilement of these former opposing totalities into an inclusive hybrid where both capitalism and collective communism work in the same system. The trouble with collectivism/communism is that it requires mature understanding and a buy-in whereas capitalism mirrors brutal nature and doesn't demand much comprehension in order for the common dolt to eek out a living. But what is wrong with capitalism is that it shuns cooperation as a cultural imperative--education in the west is predicated only on competition and makes no formal investment in social development or the cultural politics of cooperation. Education however makes for the perfect captive audience proving ground to integrate both competition and cooperation. And primary to that is observance of the main elements of truth at all times i.e, sociology, economics and ECOLOGY. If and when you achieve this brave integration where no one is permanently stuck or ordered into one role but routinely assumes one of two modalities, the society becomes ideal as a whole (more or less, but a lot more than now) and issues of sustainability become the language of journalism and history. Does that mean we still won't run out of stuff? No. But it means we will have a new culture of synergy where innovators can implement sustainability solutions without the resistance we still have.
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    Mar 14 2013: I have been chastised. It seems Bob has pointed out that "capitalism" is a political function and I have been duped or just historically illiterate. It seems that Bob is not alone in his convictions that "capitalism" is a political system that is used to subjugate the masses and strip wealth (financial?) from the people.
    What I have tried to say and what is today called "capitalism"; croneyism, state capitalism, etc. is in fact political systems and they are small groups of people exerting control of societies using "money" as a method of control.

    That's not capitalism, thats just tyranny by any other name. Capitalism is a person, using his own resources and may employ helpers to provide for the marketing of product or service at a price that would sustain the operation.
    It's not just capitalism that has been denigrated, it's happened to communism too! The recent "president" of Venezuela who propose an equality amongst the poorest of his nation was able to amass over 2 billion of personal wealth, a little short of sharing all.
    So let's not just criticize capitalism, let's address those who 'bastardize' it and use it to bring suffering to the people.
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      Mar 15 2013: A very good point! If I am correct in my basic presupositions (we all have them and should be willing to change them as pointed out by Allan Savory's talk on desertification) all systems, all societies have some who are more greedy than others, and who are willing to exploit others for gain. This is not a purely capitalistic tendency. It happened in tribes, it happened in socialist societies, it happened under kings, and communist regimes. Why blame a faulty system, (they all are faulty) why not go after those who corrupt them?
      • Mar 16 2013: Hey, Steady on!

        I've been passively scrolling down the conversation here- but this set of assumptions invites an intervention!

        You've just identified the basic human trait of leadership and social organisation then labelled it "corrupt" in the next sentence. What's next on your list of corruptions and dastardly evils? Sex, Food? Some things are just normal.

        Maybe this is another time time to change your basic presumptions! Why not accept human behavior as usually normal in its context and try to change the context? Don't like War? Change your Government. Don't like the way Capitalism works? Then develop or use another method of organisation....there are, contrary to assertion to the opposite, many.
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          Mar 16 2013: Thanks for the intervention Alan. Some of what I said was a little bit "tongue in cheek". Just pointing out that the tendencies that are seen as evil by some are present with some people at almost all times and in almost all places and any system falls prey to manupulation.
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    Mar 13 2013: Now the focus has changed from criticizing capitalism to corporations and the pending financial collapse.
    Again, I read the characterizations going from the sublime to the silly.
    Is capitalism sustainable? Yes. It is the most honest system to advance civilization.
    Is capitalism corruptible? Yes, One wag has said that the energy and talent expended into gaming the capitalism system would cure the common cold, cancer and create interstellar space engines.
    Corporation is a group of capitalists that pool their resources to meet the demands of a national or global market.
    Money and it's derivatives are simply mediums of exchange.
    Most everyone has some wealth that can be used for capital.
    There are no such thing as "menial" jobs. to think so is simple pomposity. All work is worthy effort.
    Poverty is a relative state of mind and most often "envy" is a better descriptive noun.
    There some people who have little to no resources to sustain life. These people need help and charity from us all.
    Did I miss anything?
    • Mar 15 2013: Alternate thoughts: Capitalism is not honest, it mandates fooling some one, it thrives on asymetric knowledge. Capitalism creates inequality and scarcity ... if the "dirtbags" can't pay for it, tough, do without ... Let them eat cake. In the face of a world surfeit of food millions starve, a surfeit of light bulbs Africa is dark viewed from space at night etc. Capitalism plunders natural resources and human resources without a real concern for those who will populate the future. Capitalism meets the demands (not needs) of the market that capitalists create. We don't need all this stuff! Money allows you to accumulate power that you can use at another time or another place. Agree, all work is worthy, except for capitalism it could be valued equally. Poverty is NOT a state of mind ... you have never been poor, a state of mind does not cause you to die of hunger. The survival instinct and natural (scientific) curiosity rewarded by peer praise alone could drive innovation, as it did for millennia, without the need for a capitalistic system.
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        Mar 15 2013: So, English is your second language. I'll try to simplify it for you. You're right, I've never been poor. My grandfather came here with $30 in his pocket with a gaggle of kids. My father reach adult hood in the great depression and worked with the CCC to support his family. Our main meal was cooked macaroni sauced with olive oil and garlic... on Sunday. We may have been impoverished by some standards, but didn't feel poor. State of mind is what you feel.

        And who are you to decide what we need or what we want. You only do that for you, not me or anyone else.

        Consider, also careful study will show that most of the world's hunger is so much a lack of food, as it is a weapon used by tyrannical governments, few of which are State Capitalist.

        Finally, Capitalism is an outgrowth of village markets that began when mankind came out of the caves and formed villages.... 12 millennium ago?
  • Mar 8 2013: Ugh. Why is it so hard for you people to understand that wealth is not a zero-sum game? Capitalism is the only system that allows people to improve their socio-economic standing. Economic freedom is not about allowing the super wealthy to run the show and make the rules. Economic freedom is about allowing the little guy the CHANCE to be part of the game and become successful and wealthy.

    Each person takes a different path in life. Some decide to spend every cent as soon as they get it, some save as much as they can. Some people just want to come home and watch TV and others spend time working harder and educating more. Each decision has an opportunity cost and those who sacrifice certain things and obtain better results because of it should not be punished because other people choose to live differently. Poverty in Africa has nothing to do with Capitalism, it has everything to do with STATISM. People like Mugabe STEAL from the people, they are not Capitalists, they are thieves!
    • Mar 15 2013: Where is this meritocracy you're talking about.
      Should those without ambition live a life of poverty in retirement. Not everyone wants to be a millionaire, warm and comfortable will do.
      Some capitalists deal With the devil. Where do you think Mugabe's money is ?
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    Mar 8 2013: When I was young adolescent in the communist Romania, because of the strong propaganda I did believe that 'capitalism is evil' . It took time, and real life experience to realise, alternatives are tyrannies and worse. It is possible, soon we will be anyway in Information Age, but creating a company and also offering work to others, creating wealth to be able to help children In university, as I did later is not 'evil' or bad. And nor is 'menial job' At some time in that communist country even that was that was denied to me. I do feel the talk about 'bad capitalism' is propaganda, that gets old anyway. Taking money, wealth from one does not makes the others happy or less poor. Free enterprise is what can do more then 'distribution of what is'
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      Mar 13 2013: No Julie, the alternatives are not tyrannies or worse. Now you are listening to the opposite line of propaganda to the one that you were brought up with. Recognise both for what they are: a method for enslaving us. In fact we can strike a balance between the forces of economy and our humanity.
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        Mar 13 2013: So how do you view Nz's current change to the shareholder led country Joanne? almost 300.000 registrations for one energy companies shares in just a matter of days. These companies hiked their prices up touting higher energy costs which must be passed on to the public when in reality they upped their asset worth. The current push by that group that want to slap the banks hands for over charging on their bank fees has my vote only because the gorging was allowed to carry on too long.
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          Mar 15 2013: Well obviously I view it with sorrow and dismay Ken. I see it as the first stage in what will inevitably be the demise of all that I hold precious; a stable, relatively equal, humane, safe, comfortably well off, society.

          Firstly, please do not be under the illusion that we are looking at a demorcratically led transition. Quite the contrary. White colonial New Zealand was a country founded on the egalitatrian Socialist principles of a people escaping a cruel class system. That socio political legacy is still firmly entrenched in the hearts and minds of most Kiwis. In tandem with that, the Tangatawhenua or 'People of the Land' or original people, the Maori, follow a communtiy principle of whanaungataugna .

          This translates to a concept of togetherness, family, belonging to community and the land. These two ethos combined mean that there is a great deal of active and strong opposition to privatisation here in New Zealand. This has not stopped it proceeding however. Although there are protests and petitions each week and last week a large hikoi or 'meeting' produced nearly half a million signatures on one petition alone (a significant result in a country only four million strong.) it will not change much.

          The process of turning over the democratic system, and placing paid employees in key decision making roles is complete. The people who wait to harvest this market just sit back and wait for their patsy's to deliver.
  • Mar 5 2013: One of the biggest obstacles to equality is the irrational hatred of taxation. Redistribution of wealth will be a necessity as long as greed is such a dominant personality trait among humans. This isn't even debatable, there are thousands of years of history repeating itself showing what the ultimate result of greed really is. Libertarians believe in self regulating systems, and I fear it's mostly due to naivety and being surrounded by likeminded people with little input from the world around them. Almost subculture-like in nature. It's unreasonable to think that a totally free system would be free of people who would do anything to become the most powerful force in the world. So that's never going to work, I've heard all the arguments and they're all pointing to a world that never existed. A world where everyone is keen to share and everyone stays informed about everything so that their every dollar (every dollar is a vote in an unregulated government-less system) is spent promoting your idea of positive change. The problem here is that once money becomes the only measure of democracy the votes shift DRAMATICALLY.

    Poor people will have substantially less power than the middle class, and nothing is going to touch the rich, they have the power to say "ok, don't like it, buy from someone else." And you can, you can buy from some other corporation whose business practices are equally bad.

    You see examples of this even today, people who are outraged by the factory conditions at Foxconn where the apple products are made, they get all fussy and go out and buy an android phone. That's all nice and wonderful, but they're also made at Foxconn or similar factories. And the people who bash apple only to turn around and buy a product made under the exact same conditions are people who believe themselves to be informed consumers. I would say that 95% of the worlds population couldn't give a crap where stuff is made. They look at the prices and go "I'll have that."
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      Mar 5 2013: wait a second here. you are saying that i'm irrational thinking 50% tax is ridiculous and immoral. i'm also greedy, and the real problem is that i don't give away 50% of my income willfully. i'm also naive pointing out that even in dark the middle ages, taxes never went over 20%, and the most prosperous times in europe and US coincided with taxes one tenth of that amount.

      with such a start, i doubt there can be any reasonable discussion. normally, civilized people don't start a debate with declaring the other side irrational, greedy and naive. also we rarely start with declaring the issue undebatable.

      btw you are right in that last claim. the question is indeed undebatable. as of now, majority simply votes on taxation, and they ask the state to forcefully collect taxes disregarding any opposing arguments, let them be moral, economical or practical.
      • Mar 15 2013: Taxation is a community pot to provide things we need. It's the way it is spent and by whom that is debatable.
        Money is an unquestionable thirst. Care to tell me how much is enough?
        There's a lot of people out there that would prefer the problem of earning the amount you would need to pay the higher rate than go hungry.
  • Mar 4 2013: No system is "sustainable". Class stratification is not unique to capitalism. All systems seem to favor those who discover how to exploit that system. This exploitation becomes more sophisticated, until a large under-privileged majority is serving the whims of the privileged minority at which point there is an involuntary redistribution of resources, often violently, and then the game begins again. It might be preferable to find a way to hit the "reset button" more often and with less violence.
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    Mar 3 2013: Since when is Bono the bastion of common sense? He makes great music but he lives in a rarified atmosphere. He is out of touch.

    Capitalism is not passe' in that it is a good economy that gives people hope and incentive: incentive to provide for their children and give them a better life (education, health care etc.) AND, the most important thing of all, the notion that one does it by hard work (and faith), not by hand-outs. Hand-outs decrease self-respect.

    People confuse wealth with happiness. Happiness is having enough for a happy and healthy life for one's family and some extra for improvements. The worst thing that can happen to people as a whole is to have no incentive.
    • Mar 4 2013: I think the most sustainable economic system would be a capitalistic system based on a gross nation well-being metric and a national/global environmental well-being metric.

      The amount of money that's moving around has little to do with happiness, health, and well-being once basic needs such as shelter, health care, food, etc. are paid for.

      Take a read:
      https://dl.dropbox.com/u/36238416/Beyond%20Money.pdf
  • Mar 2 2013: Hi Luke, we met briefly in San Francisco, didn't we?

    As I understand it, you're projecting that rising incomes eliminate poverty, and without poverty, no one fills menial jobs. Correct?

    The obvious solution: robots! If we automate all menial tasks, the concern evaporates. I see no inherent obstacles to total automation, but maybe I'm missing something and it's impossible. Even so, I still see a way that the capitalist system would fill menial jobs when what we call 'poverty' is gone.

    Say it's 2030, and rising standards of living have eliminated all the things that we call poverty: hunger, unsanitary conditions, dirty drinking water, no healthcare, cockroach problems, stringy shirts with mustard stains etc. It's still an unequal, capitalist society, so there's still a "poor class", but they're wealthier than most people today (in the same way that poor Americans now have things Louis XIV would envy). That's a kind of poverty I'm ok with! You more-or-less said this in your comments below, but I think it bears repeating, because even though there will still be people who are "2030-poor", "2013-poverty" has still been eliminated in this scenario.

    SO, there is room for both the elimination of poverty (in the 2013 sense of the word) and the existence of a poor class (in the 2030 sense). People who are "2030-poor" will still have the incentive to work (if we can take history as any kind of guide). There are poor people now who live in climate-controlled rooms, are food secure and have cars etc., but still FEEL poor enough that it motivates them to work menial jobs. "Poor" is not an absolute thing; it's something we assess relative to those around us.
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      Mar 3 2013: I just like to give my support on your points. Automation (which is clearly viable) could solve so many problems in the world. The problem is that for companies to invest and setup a system it would be take too long to see a significant return, blinded by short term gain in my eyes. Personally, like many things, I believe it falls down to values, a new enterprise is a reflection on a persons personality. The sooner people realise that improvement from the bottom up will improve life for all then w'll be a step closer. Just means a shift in education and training towards other industries is needed.

      For example, an investment in renewable energy sources will allow a significant percentage contribution to the demand of the country; all that needs to be paid for is the maintenance. The decrease in energy costs for heating and lighting will increase disposable income for households as the dependency on oil based energy decreases, allowing them to invest in other areas.
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      Mar 3 2013: Skynet........just saying.......

      All kidding aside, automation would definitely do all the things you have mentioned. The only stumbling block I see is job availability would be cut because many of the jobs are being done by robots. However, that is me looking through my 2013 eyes. There could be new jobs developed through all this automation in 2030. We simply won't know until we get there. Robots 2030!
  • Mar 1 2013: Oh and Lovell, look to Bhutan, or the Haida, or Transition Town. There are alternatives to Capitalism, both old and new. Your stance reminds me of Einstein's quote "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them." New thinking is definitely needed... as Al also said...

    "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

    We can do better than capitalism....
  • Mar 1 2013: Capitalism would be there for centuries to come.
    USA. Japan, UK, Germany control about - 45% of Worlds wealth but have to feed only 9% of world population. (data taken from Wikipedia). There is TED talk "Who controls the world" which states a couple of Hundred corporations control the world.
    Note Governments of these Wealthier countries could be bigger evils, as they feed off the Wealthier corporations.
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    Feb 27 2013: Your post is full of so many false logic misconceptions regarding capitalism I hardly know where to begin. The aim of capitalism is to create wealth for all.

    If you understand nothing else at all you must, simply must understand capitalism tends to create wealth where none existed before. It does NOT take a finite amount of wealth and hoard it in the hands of a few. If done correctly, capitalism can create wealth for everyone, without taking away from anyone. It is simply not true in any sense that poor people are a necessary outcome of capitalism, and to believe so exhibits a disappointing lack of economic understanding.
    • Feb 27 2013: Then why are there so many poor? Why are there children that starve under capitalism as it is? Why do people go ballistic when the poor ask for more? The more fair something is the more likely the public deems it socialism and it's shunned. Just look at all the negative press when the president proposed a hike in minimum wage... Capitalism is made for the competitive. If your demeanor isn't aggressive enough to win over your boss or investors to make more of your life then you're screwed.
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        Feb 27 2013: Well then I must remind you that the standard of living under capitalism is higher now than at any time in human history. And there are certainly fewer poor under capitalism than exists under socialism. That the poor still exist at all under capitalism indicates that we haven't perfected capitalism yet, but you cannot give us an example of anything that has ever worked better.
        • Feb 27 2013: Perfection is irrelevant. Nothing the human species has ever made has been perfect. I never said socialism was perfection. Your definition of a higher standard of living is very biased. Having more things doesn't necessarily mean you're living better. Hooray little johnny has a smartphone because his parents don't want him to be teased and bullied at school for looking poor. Hooray little Johnny doesn't eat dinner for the rest of the week. The question on the table is if capitalism is sustainable. I need only to point at America's economy to show that it isn't. We're not number 1 economically. We're not number 1 in education. We're not number 1 medically. The list goes on.

          Basically the poor are very affected if wallstreet doesn't make a lot of money, but not really affected at all if wallstreet rakes in the cash. While the rich are praised for their achievements the poor stand by and watch.. hungry. The only difference is that they don't wear a crown and there are more than one in a nation.
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        Feb 27 2013: Still waiting for you to name a system that has done better for the poor than capitalism, Roland.
        • Feb 27 2013: Your statement is irrelevant to the initial question, Jones. HA YOU CAN'T THINK OF SOMETHING BETTER THAN CAPITALISM doesn't have anything to do with its sustainability. I never claimed there was or is a better system, but that's why we're discussing things on TED. Aren't we supposed to be the thinkers who get the world out of the disgraceful state it's in?
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        Feb 27 2013: Now I'm afraid you're changing your argument, William. None of your previous statements, nor mine, had anything to do with sustainability, because I began by criticizing Mr Huchinson's basic premise. Now that you've seemingly abandoned your debate with me, now you change your focus to sustainability, to draw attention away from your lack of cogent response.

        It's easy to naysay, William, and point out the weaknesses of any idea while failing to offer a better. The fact remains that the world is in a less disgraceful state under capitalism than anything else that's been tried or suggested. Whatever failings of the modern society you're ashamed of, they can most likely be solved with more and freer capitalism.
        • Feb 27 2013: "The fact remains that the world is in a less disgraceful state under capitalism than anything else that's been tried or suggested." Now you're lying to yourself. Capitalism has left us with failing infrastructure; extreme environmental damage, mostly to save corporations’ money; and an increase in health hazards, mostly to make corporations’ money. Just because there isn't yet a solution doesn't mean there isn't a problem.

          My answers have always been about sustainability.

          In my first post I brought to light the flaws of the capitalistic system. An analogy of how flaws eventually lead to catastrophic failure (as in not sustainable) is by looking at the effect of square windows on an internally pressurized airplane. The flaw, square windows (economically represented as capitalism), leads to micro cracks on the windows edges that spread every time you go up and down, apply this to our economy which goes up and down (the micro cracks being poverty spreading through the population). Now one day after the micro cracks have added up to a certain point plane goes up and the pressure is released all at once and it won't fly ever again (the economy has crashed) again..not sustainable

          You responded by comparing socialism and capitalism, the comparison of which had nothing to do with what I posted. The only thing I said about socialism was that proposed solutions to poverty that bring everyone closer to equality are mostly seen in the public eye as socialistic. You also said that I "cannot give an example of anything that has ever worked better." I did not contend this simply because I'm not looking at history. I'm looking forward, as in, what system WILL work (not has worked) better?

          I responded by giving you more examples of my point that there are major flaws backing up how it isn’t sustainable.

          To which you replied

          “Still waiting for you to name a system that has done better for the poor than capitalism, Roland.” You obviously didn’t get that I’ve been talking
        • Feb 27 2013: continued: about sustainability of capitalism the whole time nor did you get that I’m looking for what will work better.

          Capitalism isn’t sustainable and leads to hording of money.

          If capitalism doesn't lead to hoarding of wealth then tell me why we have laws preventing monopolies or maybe why we have laws that prevent communication between members of an oligopoly.
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      Feb 27 2013: You state, Lawren, that "The aim of capitalism is to create wealth for all." But if everybody is wealthy, in a real sense nobody is wealthy. Take a population and increase everybody's income 10x, and inflation will reduce the value of the dollar by a factor of 10 quite quickly, so that everybody is right back where they started. And yet, create a society where everybody has the same level of wealth, and nobody will want to do the menial jobs unless you force them to.
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        Feb 27 2013: You're confusing the amount of wealth with the amount of money, Luke. Certainly, if you increase the amount of everyone's money by 10x, it will all be worth 10x less. However, a productive, capitalist society can create new wealth for everyone, increasing everyone's quality of life by 10x without decreasing anything.
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          Feb 27 2013: Money is simply a proxy for wealth. If you are defining wealth as something like quality of life (and if not, please define it), I agree you can increase everybody's quality of life across an entire country, that is precisely what has happened in developed countries, and what is happening in developing countries. And yet there is still poverty in the USA or Europe. Nevertheless, wherever there is a significant disparity in money owned by individuals, there will be a significant difference in wealth, however you define it.
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        Feb 27 2013: I agree that a disparity in money is a disparity in wealth. But you original premise was that wealth (i.e. quality of life) cannot exist for some unless it's at the expense of others. Now you seemingly argue the contrary.

        If indeed you can increase everybody's quality of life across an entire country, how is capitalism not sustainable?
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          Feb 27 2013: I think you made the assumption from the start that I was talking about the difference between the developing and developed world. If you read my question more closely, you'll see that it's much more focused on the fact that we can't even eliminate wealth disparity within the developed world (implying that therefore promises of eliminating poverty on a global scale are probably over-ambitious). Someone will always need to clean bathrooms and build roads in the developed world, but I doubt you would ever call those people "wealthy" within developed society. A laborer in the developed world would only be considered wealthy if you were to compare them to someone in the developing world.
    • Feb 27 2013: Capitalism is capitalizing on what others don't know.
      It is capitalizing on others misfortunes and problems,
      gaining while they lose, thus increasing the gap between those with and those without.
      This adds power to those with and they use it to their advantage to not only maintain their
      position but to increase the distance between those below them.
      Capitalism has needs to survive. Here are seven:
      Greed, crime, inequality, poverty, slavery, war and death.