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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 3 2013: The human race is in itself a single, living organism. Each and everyone of us as individuals contribute to and complete the genome. The hierarchy that exists is consistent with the laws of nature; ie - survival of the fittest. Different people posses different skills. Some skills are more valuable than others. However, as intelligent beings -- unlike the genetically encoded members of say a bee hive or an ant colony for instance -- the variables that affect our ability to change position within that hierarchy are opportunity and desire. In other words, we as a species have much greater influence over our individual destinies than any other species on the planet.

    Capitalism as an economic model is in my view the most robust and successful because it is the most closely aligned with the laws of nature. It promotes activity which is useful and relevant, and weeds out that which is not. But as is usually the case, the devil is in the details. Finding the best answers rely upon asking the right questions.

    One primary set of factors that have limited individual opportunity are location, distance and time. But that is changing. Emergent technologies in internet and mobile communications are limiting or removing altogether past constraints associated with our geospatial environment. Therefore, one's ability to connect with, contribute to, and create influence and opportunity within society are exponentially increased. In a very real sense, it helps level the playing field for all participants, and provides opportunity which is then dependent upon desire.

    Success means different things to different people. Metrics based on income and net worth may be paramount to one person yet of little importance to another. I would submit that free market capitalism is the most sustainable of all economic models, and exponential advances in opportunity will lead the way to a more prosperous world.
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      Mar 4 2013: U said it Jeffrey. Natural systems are epitomes of controlled capitalism without the room for any toxic excesses. Moreover, nature and its myriad systems are always in the game of getting better and better and weeding out detrimental issues. Dr Sivaram Hariharan, Bhaarath (India)

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