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: Capitalism is indeed sustainable and I have no hesitation in saying that it the backbone of human society and human nature itself. One can make a powerful analogy with water in nature. In the natural world, environmental health is maintained only if there is a balance between freely flowing and water that is held. (Water is the currency for many natural systems and almost all places need water for sustenance and all places also need some water to be held for its own purposes. Also, stagnant water has the risk of becoming toxic and a breeding zone for vermin. ) If either of these two goes out of balance, environmental viability of any niche is affected. And water needs a gradient to flow. In the same vein, there should be a fine balance between the free flow and holding of money in society. Also, money needs a gradient to flow and that gradient is provided by capitalism. Whereas communism asks for flow of money and prosperity without being held at any place and many a time requires illogical financial gradients in its quest for resource equality, hardcore capitalism asks for money being held in selective places and only allows for a trickle in the lowest part of the money hill. A balance of between this flow and hold and having logical financial gradients makes good logic and sense for all times and places. Above all, these financial gradients should also make for ethical and moral sense. Dr Sivaram Hariharan, Bhaarath (India)

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