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Luke Hutchison

TED Fellow, Google

TEDCRED 50+

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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'd like to point something out in this thread; it is started on a false dichotomy between "social justice" and "capitalism", neither of which the originator of the thread seems to understand. He states that wealthy people are the product of a long tail of poor people contributing to that wealth; that is simply absurd. Wealthy people benefit from a capitalistic exchange with poor people, who in turn benefit, though they benefit less than the wealthy person. What does this mean? Capitalism is a benefit to everyone involved. It simply benefits those with more to invest more.
    Let me throw out some food for thought. For people crying about the state of the gap between rich and poor today under "capitalism"; I would point out to you that the gap between rich and poor has been growing at about the same rate as state control over all economic activity and hyper regulation around the globe. Since I worked on Capitol Hill, I have a theory about this; big corporations and certain vested interests lobby for ever more and ever more complicated regulation to strangle any would be start up businesses in the cradle in their own sectors. The net result is excessive government control over the economy (anti-capitalism) and, since newcomers can't ever get over that initial road block to build a new business, a growing gap between rich and poor. Ironically, it is the people lobbying for "social justice" who scream loudest when any of the hyper-regulation now rampant is to be rolled back. It doesn't help that nobody seems to know what capitalism even means anymore. It is very simply the natural default of human interaction that benefits all sides. Capitalism is not an ideology; it goes back beyond ancient Babylon. It has existed under every political system ever. Those that allowed for it's existence thrived in direct relation to their tolerance for it and those that tried to quash it LITERALLY starved.
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      Feb 27 2013: Could I also add here Mr. Biggs that the Communist Ideology has failed globally (as we all are aware) and even the China of today is a capitalist society with a communist veneer. That in itself should answer as to why Capitalism is valid for all time and ages. Ancient Hindu Bhaarath (India) was a cradle of capitalism and unbridled prosperity and it was finely balanced by some heavy duty charity and prayers for universal good by the rich. The ancient Hindu Kings and the rich traders under their reign were famous for many greats acts of philanthropy. One such individual was the great warrior Karna from the epic Mahaabhaaratha and they regularly performed Dhaanas (giving away) and Yagnas (universal prayers for prosperity). And this was also ratified by the Hindu principle of Sanyaasa (Renounciation) where even Kings detached themselves from all their material possessions and kith and kin during their old age and retired for a life of meditation and contemplation in the deepest parts of forests. The Hindu Prince Siddhartha, who of course went on to become the BUDDHA did this very thing at a very young age, even though he had more powerful spiritual motivations for doing this. Regs. Dr. Sivaram Hariharan, Bhaarath (INDIA).

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