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: I even take this further to say that without capitalism, life and society would cease to exist. Financial and resource gradients are always needed to efficiently run society. We are are all times engaged in the act of giving and taking even within the confines of our homes. And moment there is a giver and a taker, a resource/financial gradient is established and one can never escape these gradients in any walk of life. Even if we were the last standing human on this planet there would still be a resource gradient as we would be taking from the Earth for our sustenance. In the deepest recesses of biology, both at the macro and molecular level, resource gradients become the backbone of efficient ecological and cellular processes respectively and become vital to life itself. The question then becomes as to how efficiently steer these resource gradients with the aim to maintain long term sustenance and not short term gains as exhibited by some avaricious mandarins of Wall Street and other global financial centers. At the same time life processes and biological gradients do not go by the misguided and idealistic logic of equally distributing resources like Communism. It is strictly done on a requirement basis with stringent checks and balances by enzymes and other biological agents. Dr Sivaram Hariharan, Bhaarath (India)

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