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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: "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"

    and it is sad because of what?

    "who are each contributing to that wealth"

    this is just false. unless there is coercion, everybody engages in activities that benefit themselves. nobody works to increase someone else's wealth.
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      Feb 27 2013: "and it is sad because of what?"

      [Always baffles me how people with your mentality can have 200+ contribution. Makes me loose faith in TED, had to say it...]

      There are 7+ billion people living in this planet. Capitalism only satisfies 200 million(or less) people... whilst other have to starve (yep, literally, you'd know that if you come out of your mom's basement) and drink filthy water.

      "this is just false. unless there is coercion, everybody engages in activities that benefit themselves. nobody works to increase someone else's wealth"

      Capitalism is a 'money system', how we organize money (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capitalism). (From what I've understood) you are derailing this topic.

      And Kudos to person who gave you +1
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        Feb 27 2013: "Capitalism only satisfies 200 million(or less)"

        this is false. capitalism satisfies everyone participating. it did in the 1800's in the USA and europe, and it does in brazil, chile, singapore, india, china, and many many parts of the world today.

        one does not need an economic degree to see that. a little bit of thinking helps. one good question to ask: before capitalism-ish systems, there were clean water and plenty of food in africa? nope. before capitalism, there were no clean water and plenty of food anywhere. capitalism created those. and continues to create it for those that opt for it.

        "Capitalism is a 'money system', how we organize money"

        no it is not, and it is not surprising that you know very little about economics, and you condemn capitalism. these things usually go hand in hand. the solution would be to educate yourself, but since you seem to be content with your current knowledge, it won't happen.
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          Feb 27 2013: I might be un-educated and ignorant (in all honesty).

          But I'd never call something, which is wrong, right... just because I'm on top of pyramid.
        • Mar 7 2013: "Capitalism satisfies everyone participating"
          Oh no it doesn't , what about the reluctant capitalists like me. I run a business, have a couple of properties and have two vehicles so I must be ok, I don't like the system it's a bad one.
          Maybe you could explain to me, with your formidable knowledge on economics, why America is seen as one of the wealthiest countries on the planet and owes over a trillion dollars.
          Here in the UK, another "wealthy" country, there's talk about power outages by 2015 because we can't afford the electricity and gas prices. We are cutting most of our front line services and it's only a matter of time before someone suggests we put down pensioners because they're no longer economically viable.
          And how come no one knows how to get us out of this economic mess, 5 years on and they're still scratching their head about what to do next.
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        Feb 27 2013: without understanding, you can not tell wrong from right. so it is quite possible to call wrong things right and vice versa without even realizing. you have no chance to avoid that unless you educate yourself.
    • Feb 27 2013: What Kristztian?
      "nobody works to increase someone else's wealth"
      Everyone does!
    • Feb 28 2013: Completely disagree with this idea, that profit is the sole motivator. Effective teachers work to increase others' wealth, as do effective environmental, human & animal rights' advocates & activists (to name a very few), too often at the expense of their own financial health, while increasing true health/wealth of all. They love the world, & love is, I think, the only motivator (whether it's love of money, power, biodiversity, children, wisdom, knowledge).. Real wealth, the health of our planets/species/self, is required, is the foundation of all other wealth, and for any possibility of sustainable capitalism, which is to me our only hope.

      Btw, I do have a good education, and constantly further it, while knowing well that I know nothing. I'm also new posting on Ted-this is my 1st, though I've been experiencing TED w/utter gratitude for years. Pls don't put down my-or your perception of my- intelligence. I participate in, but am not helped by, capitalism, nor are many I know, and I do not think most are, increasingly, but I know it is the machine that runs the status quo, & gives a glossy appearance of progress, on the walls of our psyche's collective cave. I do not understand why money's obsessively motivating power OVER us, as opposed to it ONLY giving us power, as in greed beyond reason, isn't understood by more for what it is, & for how it defines and enslaves.
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        Feb 28 2013: you are completely missing the point here. nobody questioned the motivation of people. the cited and rejected claim was that in capitalism, rich people can somehow make poor people create value for them, and just keep it. it is not how capitalism works. in capitalism, you choose to cooperate a person or a company based on your own valuations and desires. if the cooperation is not advantageous for you, you simply don't engage in cooperation, and that's all. this "profit is the sole motivator" idea is entirely unrelated to the debate.

        you are greatly benefited from capitalism. you have a 1000 sq ft house, air conditioning, car, tv, cellphone, computer, internet access, healthcare, not to mention clothing and abundance of food. and over $50000 of income a year. at least you do, if you are an average american. these are all fruits of capitalism.
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          Feb 28 2013: "...these are all fruits of capitalism."

          Does that include all the putrid decay, maggots and parasites of fruit that has got over-ripe?

          Fruit often looks good on the outside...
        • Mar 7 2013: "in capitalism, you choose to cooperate a person or a company based on your own valuations and desires."
          Was this some sort of laboratory controlled experiment you witnessed or have you never heard of slave labour.
          "You are greatly benefitted from capitalism"
          I'd prefer to say despite capitalism rather than from.

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