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 5 2013: First, I think we have muddled democracy and capitalism to be one in the same. They are not.
    Second, America does not have a capitalistic economic system. I say this because with the advent of credit and the available option of bankruptcy to walk away from unsecured dept creates a constant state of excess demand. Since you are not buying goods with money that exists today, but on credit with the idea you will have money later to pay. We've over-leveraged to buy what we desire and not what we need. For those of us that can get credit we use it to fuel our lifestyle and get more stuff. Those that do not have access to credit do not have the fuel to drive the lifestyle they want; they are stuck with an unlleveraged real wage and fall further behind.

    Here are my ideas and they aren't new:
    1) Simple regulations based on people, planet, and profit with huge fines for not complying.
    2) Simple flat income tax for people and companies, maybe tithing, or 15%-ithing- Hey works for the Catholic Church
    3) There is no such thing as unsecured debt.
    4) Companies that provide critical services that make our lives go (i.e. power, gas, healthcare, public transportation, network connectivity, food production, etc.) are non-profit.
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      Mar 5 2013: It's called crony capitalism and it does need to be addressed. Government needs to govern and business needs to do their thing. Governing should be limited to being a referee in the game of business, seeing that everyone plays by the establish rules. When government gets into business with business, we see how those problems get in everyone's business.
      • Mar 5 2013: I hope this means you're an advocate of campaign finance reform. It hasn't been mentioned here much, if at all (I've been jumping between topics as I read). How can we expect our politicians to govern wisely when to stay in office they have to grub for money from wherever than can get it just to stay ahead of the competition? If we could level the playing field for candidates - no big purse strings allowed to get involved even with the use of one's own money, then we should be able to have a government more responsive to the needs of the people of the US. Many of the social conditions in this country are deplorable. No public health system comparable to England's and Canada's. High infant mortality for a first world country. Glaring inequities in public education. The list goes on & soooo much of it comes from being sold a bill of goods by leadership forced to chase the almighty dollar. Where is that dollar mostly? Who stands to gain the most from the status quo? Who has been getting wealthy the fastest? Is anyone foolish enough to believe they are that much smarter than or work that much harder than the average American? How many of you have watched the latest viral video?

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          Mar 6 2013: Hi, Ms. Kyte
          The social conditions in the US do need to be addressed. But, your point on the politicians is spot on. I am not advocating campaign financing reform, I am in favor of elimination.
          There have been a number of errors in the past in governance of the USA. The civil war could have been handled better, we did need to address the original Constitution concerning rights of citizenship of Native Americans, African slaves, even women. Don't get me started on prohibition. On big mistake was the 17th Amendment. Repeal would bring back the states into the Federal governance. Which will have to be better then the two tier legislature that has formed today. Next, lobbyist need to be barred from the halls of congress. If congressmen need information, they have the greatest source of information in the world available at the asking. The library of Congress... that is why it was created. Further any free rides, trips, campaign contributions, employment for family or stock tips, all be covered under the bribery laws of government officials.
          I am fully committed to the idea that there should be a defined separation between government and those who would use means to influence policy and extract favorable outcomes.
        • Mar 9 2013: Hi Louise and Mike,
          I just watched the video. Amazing. Revealing. Haunting. Everyone needs to see this and then let's figure out what can be done about it. I certainly agree with your thoughts on barring lobbyists from the halls of congress. The whole profession and process is absurd and leads to nothing but politicians selling out at our expense and the planet's expense.

          I like that you're committed to the idea of a defined separation between government and lobbyists, but how can it ever change? For them to outlaw the lobby would be like kicking a gift horse in the mouth.

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