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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    Mar 2 2013: I often equate capitalism with highly competitive sport where only the best prevail. If we take sports as an analogy and good old American baseball as an example within and take pitching within that, we all could agree that the best pitcher ups a teams advantage to win. To be best, the starting pitcher needs to have a gun of an arm and have pitching variations and sustain this arm power for at least 6 innings before he runs out of steam and gets relief. Moreover, he needs to sustain it over the course of a long MLB season. How hard a pitcher can throw and how often he pitches is limited by the tendency to get injured. There is of course a limit imposed by biology on even the strongest of pitchers. Even the best need rest. Therefore injuries act as a balance point for speed in pitching. (No doubt, the hard throwing closers are meant only to last a max of 2 - 3 innings. Beyond that it is injury zone for the pitcher and this in turn compromises the starting rotation and the bullpen.) That is why bb managers take great care in this regard over the course of a long season. The best manager (and this gets really true for post-season bb) is the one that calls for an adroit balance between the vital factors of talent, power, speed, injury, and rest. And this is true for all of sport. Similarly, high speed reckless capitalism as we see it today is highly prone to injuring itself as well as the system.
    • Mar 14 2013: Your analogy is somewhat flawed. You don't take into account the lying, cheating and desires by the wealthier clubs to snap up all the talent, as happens here in the UK, with our football.
      Advocates of capitalism appear to have some kind of romantic notion that we live in a meritocracy and that supply and demand takes a natural course and is not fixed.
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        Mar 15 2013: Of course, I agree Craig that sport itself has its share of cronyism where many a time wealthier clubs use brutal money power, the NY Yankess being one such example to have done it throughout the history of the majors in their journey to a plethora of pennants and WS titles. But there is something called charter in every sport and this charter precisely acts as a deterrent against cronyism or at least supposed to on paper. And this charter works as the corrective mechanism and goes good ways towards leveling the field in this physical realm of human endeavor (sport) where only the best is supposed to prevail. Sport (along with its charter of fair play) can also be our teacher in this regard as to how to regulate capitalism from crossing that thin gray line separating genuine excellence from cronyism. Thanks for ur response. Dr Sivaram Hariharan, Bhaarath (India)

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