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 11 2013: Pure capitalism is very sustainable. The problem is when regulations make pure capitalism impossible. (Just to be clear, regulations that ensure the safety are not my issue). The constant intrusion of silly regulations, coupled with radical intrusion such as labor unions makes capitalism hard to sustain. In a country like the U.S., unions and crazy over-regulation such as excessive environmental regs make it cheaper to move jobs overseas. There will ALWAYS be classes. Even in communist Russia, the ”worker” lived in poverty while party members enjoyed luxury. Many peoplw need the idea of improving their station in society to motivate them to work hard and innovate. Telling people that there is no reward for innovation will make many of them not even try. For an example, look at the innovations over the past 100 years. How many came from capitalist countries, compared to socialist countries? Even things in the US attributed to the government (take NASA for example) were actually made by private, for-profit companies like Northrup-Grumman, or Lockheed-Martin. Our (U.S.) Biggest threat is ”class warfare” where the ”poor” (the standard of living for a ”working class” American is far above the ”poor” of most other nations), created by politicians trying to pander for votes.
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      Mar 11 2013: Nicely said Sir

      The change in income between classes is more propaganda than truth.
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      Mar 12 2013: There is no pure capitalism. If you want to point to the U.S. such a pure capitalist society would dismantle itself within 5 minutes. No "pure" capitalistic system would be able to survive.

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