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Luke Hutchison

TED Fellow,

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: 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.

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