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Luke Hutchison

TED Fellow, Google

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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  • Mar 3 2013: Most of humanities history has been tribal egalitarian. Whats remarkable about tribal life is that it is not a state of desperate want like you will find in the slums or sweatshops of our civilized existence. The life of an Indian is a continual holiday, compared with the poor; On the other hand it appears to be abject when compared to the rich civilized man. Civilization therefore has caused the disparity of wealth we find so remarkable.

    Should we call an economic system that leaves people in desperate want acceptable, fair, free? I think to preserve the benefits of what is called civilized life, and to remedy at the same time the evil which it has produced, ought to be the economic goals.

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