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 8 2013: The relevant question is not the distribution of income. The relevant point is the morale of capitalistic behavior. Capitalism in itself is neither good nor bad, and uneven wealth distribution neither. But how to use wealth makes the difference.
    In the deepest capitalism of the late 19th Century one of the most important entrepreneurs in Germany Alfred Krupp said and lived the principle: that "solid, satisfied regular worker" are more important than the distribution of dividends, The actual foundation manager Beitz asked in November 2011 for the bicentennial anniversary: "The moral capitalism must be the foundation of our economic trade." And even in the actual crisis of this major steel conglomerate the discipline remains to live the mentioned principle rather than folllow short term unethical "capitalistic" exclusive shareholder driven behaviours.
    The second point I would like to add to this conversation relates to inheritance.
    The story in one reply of Mike Colera reads like this:"He spent days in his dorm room writing computer code for his new atari computer. They were the newest geek toys and he and his friends had a great time making apps to make this computer do things. Well, he and his friends dropped out of school and started a small business of writing code for computers. His father gave him some seed money to get him started. He had intellectual capital. He's Bill Gates". Great. But seed money is one thing, cementing wealth with kids who never contributed at all to generate any financial wealth, is an other aspect. If one criticize the distribution of wealth from the rich to the poor than one should also criticize the distribution of wealth from the parents to the (poor) kids.

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