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 14 2013: Capitalism as it is currently practiced in America is a runaway train bound for calamity. You can call that unsustainability if you need to. In order for it to become a non-train wreck capitalism cannot continue to be practiced as a massive singular totality with evangelists and ideologues insisting on the exclusion of other models. It is ironic that with the Cold War in which the world went to the brink of annihilation over two opposing totalities that the salvation of the system that declared itself the winner (no one won, it was only a matter of who lost more) and perhaps the salvation of the human condition is a reconcilement of these former opposing totalities into an inclusive hybrid where both capitalism and collective communism work in the same system. The trouble with collectivism/communism is that it requires mature understanding and a buy-in whereas capitalism mirrors brutal nature and doesn't demand much comprehension in order for the common dolt to eek out a living. But what is wrong with capitalism is that it shuns cooperation as a cultural imperative--education in the west is predicated only on competition and makes no formal investment in social development or the cultural politics of cooperation. Education however makes for the perfect captive audience proving ground to integrate both competition and cooperation. And primary to that is observance of the main elements of truth at all times i.e, sociology, economics and ECOLOGY. If and when you achieve this brave integration where no one is permanently stuck or ordered into one role but routinely assumes one of two modalities, the society becomes ideal as a whole (more or less, but a lot more than now) and issues of sustainability become the language of journalism and history. Does that mean we still won't run out of stuff? No. But it means we will have a new culture of synergy where innovators can implement sustainability solutions without the resistance we still have.

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