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Luke Hutchison

TED Fellow, Google

TEDCRED 50+

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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 12 2013: I think many here have always earned a wage and never had to make payroll. But my point specifically is that capitalism should not be confused with corporatism. the corporation, especially the more modern multi-national type is a perversion of free markets and free people. In its most simple construct, capitalism involves adding value to something so that the result is something people are willing to work to pay for at a price higher than its cost. In this respect, capitalism is simply just another system where people add value to society, but society gets to decide if it is truly valuable. And if it is society that gets to decide value (hundreds of individual decisions), is that not very democratic? Modern corporatism is very undemocratic because being treated as a legal person, a corporation doesn't die unless it kills itself (bad management or buy-out). Thus, the successful corporation only gets stronger and more influential economically and politically. Both the business and the corporation solve for needs, but the corporate business is a ruthless and unsympathetic consumer of resources, not to provide valuable goods and services to society, but to enrich the owners of the corp who have no day to day dealing with the company, its profits and its position in the community.
    • Mar 14 2013: "the corporation, especially the more modern multi-national type is a perversion of free markets and free people."

      This is a nice myth. Capitalism has historically always been perverted, violent thing. You are just another example of being historically illiterate about the history of capitalism and enclosure.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enclosure

      The process of enclosure has sometimes been accompanied by force, resistance, and bloodshed, and remains among the most controversial areas of agricultural and economic history in England. Rich landowners used their control of state processes to appropriate public land for their private benefit. This created a landless working class that provided the labour required in the new industries developing in the north of England.
      • Mar 14 2013: I may be under-educated, but I am not illiterate. But when capitalism wasn't really theorized until the 1700's and you are referencing a feudal system from the 1200's Britain, I think you are being too obtuse. The theory of capitalism Adam smith style was free nonviolent and moral. That people aren't always this way shouldn't surprise .

        But since you brought it up, in America, the first corporations were legislated into existence. It wasn't spontaneous free markets. But interestingly, they were vehicles used to address larger public works type jobs. There wasn't free money floating around, printed at will, and financing was difficult. The corp, meant to be limited in purpose, for ventures that required a Lot of unavailable capital, for people to band together as stake-holders, and build the sewer or damn. Not the government, which would have to tax Peter to benefit Paul.

        What followed was nearly endless legislation that changed the character of the corporation to the perversion of its intent, namely to pool resources, limit liability for the public good.

        Not exactly myth and not exactly illiterate. Please keep your personal attacks to yourself.
        • Mar 14 2013: It's not a personal attack, the idea that you have billionaires and homeless people within the same nation and it isn't for a scarcity of homes for instance. Rich people owning multiple homes that could house and feed many human beings.

          The idea, the conceit that I am personally attacking you is laughable given your lack of historical understanding.

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