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 think the poverty that Bono spoke about was "extreme poverty" - Coming from Africa I get the feeling that the kind of poverty that is experienced around the world is very subjective. Using words like poverty are infective - I know people who are rich in culture, family, natural and resources, fresh air, clean water and happiness. But are convinced that they are poor because they don't' have cash or a TV. I don't think that our current model of capital is sustainable beacuse it does not capture natural assets or their services, nor does it capture the costs of exploitation and use. Capitalism 's causing the utter destruction of natural environments and like Salgado said, "it's a complete contradiction to develop by destroying everything around us". I work on elephant conservation and it is capitalism that drives lust for ivory in Asia, and it's this lust that is driving elephants to extinction. The rarer the elephants the more valuable the ivory, which is driving the poaching .. it's a vicious cycle.

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