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Luke Hutchison

TED Fellow, Google

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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 13 2013: So I was asked, What would I replace "Capitalism" with. In actuality, what would be replaced is is 'Transferable Wealth in the form of Currency. This is the true flaw of Capitalism. Money, in my pocket or bank, can be stolen or "Maddoffed" (as in Bernie) and now what was my wealth, is some one else's. Technology has made Capitalism even more vulnerable.
    My system, starts with the children. There will be a very difficult transition through this but it will start with doing things with money taken out of the equation, from the stand point of whether it gets done or not. And it will start with Schools and the Teachers. In all of nature, the young are protected as it is understood that they are the future of the species. We do a poor job of this. Start building Schools that are needed, with everything the school should have. The system will not have to pay for the school. We have the technology to create a transitional compensation system for materials and labor. Next are upgrade and rebuild Dwellings and Hospitals. As in schools, every child born from a certain point will have only to need medical care... to get it. While everyone will be required to work and choose what they want to do, it will be understood that from birth, focus will be made on an individual's talents and gifts to help them decide how they contribute to Society. Many, (only for profits sake) careers/industries, will be no more. Thus cutting waste on producing things we either don't need or are of no real world value. Reward will be given to those who take on more intense or multiple careers, in the form of Tech Development, Medicine, Education, Sports and Entertainment. This will be the start of not needing money to do, to eat, to have shelter. People will have value at birth, and it can't be taken away. And the "no money no ambition" argument, I don't buy it! I cried hard after the first Video Project I ever did, because of the effort I put in!!
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      Mar 13 2013: Laudable, but how do you get there from here?. What I am saying, Craig, is that there is nothing new here. It has already be said many times before and even tried. For example"
      Who is going to provide materials and stuff the schools will use and what is a transitional compensation. Debit Cards?
      If everybody wants to be bakers and no one wants to grow wheat, who is going to make the decision of who does what?
      Who decides what those things are we don't need and have no world value.
      So a child from birth is selected to be a (fill in the blank). I saw the movie, it didn't end well.
      Since everyone gets food and shelter, who decides I get box seats at the super bowl because I did a great job. You are making a strong case for a political system that is ruled by some "who".
      All through history there have been societies ruled even unmercifully by some "who". No freedoms, no choices, no opportunities.

      Capitalism is not a political system. It is a term for a market where barter is the manner for goods and services to be exchanged. All those great calamities you described are real but they have nothing to do with marketing good and services.
      When I was a young boy, I went to Sunday School. There we learned about Moses who came with the "Thou shall does and don't" As I got older and wiser, I thought about this, why do people have to be told that murder, lying, steeling, were immoral things to do and even societies have rules to make these illegal and punishable. Because there are people who do immoral and illegal things.
      I see your frustration with our current society. But before we can find a solution to the problems, we must better identify the real problems. Not the Obvious.
      • Mar 14 2013: "Capitalism is not a political system."

        You are deluded my friend. Money is just a special law enforced by men with guns, otherwise we would allow counterfeiting. Money and property are instruments of domination. The whole idea that there exists billionaires and homeless people in the same nation is quite political. To believe otherwise is to be gullible and historically illiterate.
        • Mar 16 2013: There are many different cultures operating under the umbrella term of Capitalism, but they are all political systems designed to organise Material Productivity and as far as I know all do so at the expense of Ecology.

          The question is whether this political system can be sustainable.

          I don't think it can, because the very uneven distribution of power it has to engender to maintain the accounting process creates a massive social and ecological inefficiency. Efforts to lead us into Sustainable Capitalism, I fear, are going to lead us into something like a globalised version of Medieval China at best, and WW3 at worst.

          The Tabloid press sees this process of degeneration as entertaining and I agree that it is, but it also has a serious side which merits discussion.
      • Mar 16 2013: Mike, the world does not really operate as a big barter market, because those who have nothing to sell but their labour are required to enter into asymmetrical relationships. Then, to maintain those relationships, Education, Media and other social services are engineered accordingly.

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