TED Conversations

Luke Hutchison

TED Fellow,


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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 27 2013: There is room in the world for a healthy capitalism. We can learn from Scandinavian countries things that could help the United States and the world at large. Because although the US is still the richest country in the world, we know and see that a lot of Americans wouldn't feel like being part of the richest and poverty has been rising domestically. Some practical (common sense) ideas that could contribute to the kind of world both you and Bono are thinking about are:

    - Healthy spending on accessible and equal quality education for people in all communities (esp. early in life)

    - Regs making it harder for businesses to influence public policies or add provisions tailored only for them (Tax loopholes for instance in the US enable corporations to pay very low (or null at times) actual tax although on the face the US has a high corp tax rate. Significant tax $ is lost due to local & foreign tax havens.)

    - Current & future taxpayers money is wasted indirectly for subsidies for the financial industry: gov payments and guarantees in the housing markets that didn't and won't profit homeowners.

    - It is too easy for corp to shed jobs in the US, and not for serious efficiency or strategy reasons but simply to hit quarterly earnings numbers expected by analysts. (there are articles in the news every week especially with big banks cutting jobs)

    - Regs that curb sourcing practices of firms in developing countries (fairly priced and un-bloody resources: No need to talk about Congo a well known example. I will talk about Niger which supplies for "pennies" most of the Uranium for France via the Firm Areva (nuclear is the main source of energy in France), etc.

    - Less subventions to western farmers (esp. USA for Cotton & Corn). This "kills" the farmers from poor countries who rely on Agriculture but have to sell their harvest at loss.

    - More tech & high speed internet in Africa to empower the youth

    - Return the $ hidden in Swiss banks by former African dictators

    - etc...

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