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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: 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.

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