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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: Bono talks the talk but he does not walk the walk. He changed residence from Ireland to avoid high taxes.

    Capitalism has existed for thousands of years and will last as long as humans do.

    The simple truth is that the standard of living today exists only because of capitalism. Countries did not create the standard of living we have today.

    There will always be inequality so what. Capitalism has given African tribesman cell phones, modern agriculture, the internet, etc, you see capitalism has raised the poorest people's standard of living? In China 10 years ago the GDP per capita was $100 per year today it is $7000, that was capitalism.

    The only time this is a problem is when companies are in cahoots with countries this is called crony capitalism and most likely what you think of when you think of the big evil corporation.
    • Feb 27 2013: sorry but that's not true at all. countries are responsible for creating the standard of living we have today, mostly through funding research which paved the way for advances which all citizens benefited from, royalty free. those products we're all so fond of weren't developed in private companies, they were developed through public research.

      if the us government hadn't funded nasa to develop rockets and satellite technology, the african tribesmen would have no cell phones.
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        Feb 27 2013: Would you care to hold up some facts that support your claim?

        Are you saying that the cell phone was a forgone conclusion after NASA?

        Are you saying Bell Labs had nothing to do with the invention of Cell phones? What about Alexander Graham Bell? Did the government fund Edison and Tesla? Did the government fund the Wright brothers? The government did fund Samuel Pierpoint Langley but what did he do? Did the government invent the computer or did IBM and Bill Gates and Steve Jobs have something to do with it? What about television or radio? The automobile? The washing machine? the toilet? indoor plumbing? cure for polio? cure for chicken pox? converting ecoli into insulin? etc, etc, etc , etc

        Nope not a one from government.
        • Feb 27 2013: i'm saying no telecommunications company had the expertise, money, or inclination to put satellites in space that they would eventually be able to use to further their products. once nasa had done it, telcos and others were then able to use the knowhow to improve their products and make new ones.

          you're ignoring the science that was done that proceeded these inventions. bell labs was able to develop the first car phones thanks to discoveries made earlier by government funded research and support, mostly through the military. the computer is just easy. development was made through the military during WW2. experts in the field were then later employed by private companies.

          you bring up a good point with the wright brothers, though i think not the one you intended. the wright's made their fortunes in printing and manufacturing, which then meant they had the funds to pursue their aviation ambitions. the funds were needed *first* before their plane could be developed, and even then they didn't invent the airplane, all they did was take others' discoveries and add their contribution which was an improved control mechanism. we were lucky that some people in the past were rich enough and interested enough in science to do their own research, and give their discoveries to society royalty-free; decidedly un-capitalistic! benjamin franklin is a good example of this.

          tv wasn't getting anywhere until the BBC provided funding, the polio vaccine was developed non-profit at pittsburgh university, and similarly penicillin was developed non-profit thru research funded by the british government. did you know that despite the multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry, the world is actually running out of effective antibiotics because no new ones have been developed?

          i'll leave you to find out exactly what gates and jobs gave to the world. let me know please!
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        Feb 27 2013: Ben

        As in the your first post this is conjecture.

        Nasa did not have anything to do with Cell phones, the main invention was cell towers that make cell phones possible. which like almost 100% of inventions was not government.

        The Wright brothers were the first to fly. Anything else is irrelevant.

        The invention of TV was not by the BBC

        Have a nice day
        • Feb 28 2013: on the contrary it isn't conjecture at all. as you can see if shown exactly where those discoveries were made. on the other hand you claim that inventions were made by for-profit organisations without giving any basis whatsoever for that claim.

          cell phones use both satellites (thanks nasa) and cell towers. cell towers work by sending signals by microwave transmission, which was developed mostly by the british government for communications during war. private companies later used that knowledge to build the towers and network, they did not invent it.

          the wright brothers were not the first to fly, they were the first to effectively control flight. they took ideas of others (non-patented of course) to build their own plane, to which they added their own clever method of steering. you can even read their original patent, which is not for the flying machine but its control mechanism, exactly as i've said.

          the bbc did not invent tv and i didn't say it did. it provided the funding for others to develop tv (they were so outrageously expensive that even the rich wouldn't by them, especially since there was nothing to watch on them)), and provided broadcasting services free of charge, without which no tvs would ever have been sold.

          nuclear power - government, solar panels - nasa, the ccd in all digital cameras - various european universities, computers - the british government and manchester university, lcd screens - a few european universities and the british government, etc.

          what private companies do is take research generated by non-profit organisations such as universities and government, and build products using it. some companies do their own research but inventions by these are in a tiny minority. bell labs was a good example, and even that got going on prize money given by the french government in 1880! again no thanks to capitalism!
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        Feb 28 2013: It is definitely conjecture. Lets take the example of a country that it entirely publicly funded such as N Korea verses S Korea or West Germany verses East Germany or Taiwan verses China. The countries who are entirely publicly funded do not prosper the one who are mostly privately funded do prosper. The reason is capitalism.

        You are entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts.
        • Feb 28 2013: so you're saying that because socialist and communist countries don't fund science, then nasa couldn't possibly have developed solar panels? that turing who worked for the government couldn't have developed computers? that crick who worked for a university not a for-profit company therefore didn't discover the structure of dna? the way that government allocates its funds results in invention, not the form that government takes.

          how do you conclude that the examples i have presented are conjecture? perhaps you misunderstand what the word means? if someone were to claim "non-profit institutions do most of the research that supports our current quality of such, as evidenced by these examples A, B, C, and D" that i not conjecture, however someone claiming "capitalism did everything (the end no examples or support)" is exactly the definition of conjecture.

          come on i've given you multiple opportunities and even asked you directly to tell what capitalism has contributed to our current standard of living, and you keep avoiding the issue. i've shown you many examples of how non-profit institutions have conducted research that the private sector has then taken for free in order to make consumer goods, now it's your turn to actually back up your claims.
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        Feb 28 2013: Alright Benny this is my last post as I don't the time to go over the same point endlessly.

        You have not answered my last post. Capitalism has raised the standard of living, this is abundantly clear to anyone but the most obtuse. The diff is N Korea verses S Korea etc
        • Feb 28 2013: you haven't gone over your point even once, you've stated it many times without any support whatsoever. just declaring that capitalism has raised the standard of living without giving any supporting argument whatsoever doesn't make your case, it just shows you are incapable of making the case.

          again, north korea doesn't spend on science, south korea does, it has nothing to do with communism or democracy. in your very own country the government will spend $68 billion dollars on scientific research! if my previous question is too complicated for you, then tell me if capitalism is so good at improving our lives, why does it need the government to fund all the research before it can make any better products?
    • Feb 27 2013: To Pat......Having a cell phone radiating into my brain doesn't define 'quality of life'. Having electricity doesn't mean the air i breathe is clean. Or it is safe for me to walk outside at night because i have CCTV.
    • Feb 27 2013: That's pretty petty of you Pat.
      Bono needs to survive like anyone else while he tries to help and you simply dismiss him when he did what he had to for himself. Quite similar to how you once dismissed someone else by simply using a demonizing term, saying how you could see socialism was alive and well south of the border.

      Well, we've never had Communism or Socialism without money being involved. That is why they mostly fail because money breeds corruption and that destroys the apple cart.

      The standard of living exists for some. It needs to exist for everyone not just fancy Amerikans.
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        Feb 27 2013: Bono sings and lobbies about the need to care about others yet refuses to pay the taxes required to fund the socialism he espouses. This is what socialist accuse the capitalists of doing similar to Al Gore and that ilk. I'm merely stating that people who live in glass houses should not throw rocks.
        • Feb 28 2013: you make a good point about bono and i agree, it's wrong to say one thing and then prove the opposite by doing the other. bono moved in order to avoid paying higher taxes, as far as i know though al gore has done no such thing, what do you base that statement on? (genuinely curious, not trying to have a go at you)

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