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Luke Hutchison

TED Fellow, Google

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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 1 2013: "Yes it is sustainable as their is no practicing alternative in the world."

    Really? We have no model that doesn't have crime, poverty, injustice, or ecological collapse, so I guess we are just stuck with those too? I love the argument that failed Communism means Capitalism has been proven right, because false syllogism is a function of all fundamentalist thinking, and fundamentalist Capitalists are just as easy to disprove as any other fundamentalist religion. Lovell's assumption that the reasons for black poverty are economic ones furthers my point; like most fundamental thinking, the ability to see anything other than one's own paradigm is a given. Might I suggest that prejudice had more to do with a downtrodden black people than economic circumstance? I belive the former begat the latter, not vice versa. And an educated black man of the period was not an equal, just "uppity". So dies that theory...

    But none of this addresses the question. Is capitalism sustainable? And the answer (which I had thought self evident, but there are none so blind as those who will not see) is no. Capitalism's key requirement is an expanding market. Should that become impossible, Capitalism crashes. As we live on a finite planet, with finite space and resources, population eventually must come to a standstill, meaning, inevitably, markets will follow. We are in the first stages of this contraction already, with predictable economic results (wildly increasing food and oil prices, resource conflicts, etc.).

    So like all fundamentalists, the Capitalists will argue that business is the answer to all our problems (apologies to Mr's Gore and Gates, but that is Ayn Rand revisited; the problem cannot be the solution). And indeed, many issues facing the planet today (whether you deny them or not) are mostly borne of this capitalist agenda (global warming, cultural destruction, the shrinking middle class, etc.). Capitalism is not the answer, it's the problem...
    • Mar 2 2013: I agree with you about that the unhindered expansion of reckless capitalism will not succeed without some system to rein them in. On the other hand, we also have "pseudo-democracy" in which politicians got elected by "promising the moon" to promote "reckless" welfare states. Look what that ended up with in the countries they "administered"' nowadays. As to the earth environment and resource problems, we wont solve them until the strong nationalism is seriously checked, so that majority of the countries are willingly to cooperate to develop their economy and total wealth for all the people on earth. With the current chaotic political and economic system on earth, there won't be a system of any kind, including the capitalism, to satisfy each and all of us. Unfortunately, sometimes good intentions may not be the best solution.
      In summary, I am not saying whether capitalism can or can't be sustained. Just like every one said here, that there are no other workable systems existed up to now. Rather I would suggest that we have to look at the other auxiliary or co-required social/political/economic system to make it work for all of us.

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