TED Conversations

Luke Hutchison

TED Fellow,


This conversation is closed.

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.)


Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • Mar 7 2013: Thanks to Mike and Krisztian. I am in agreement with both of these people.

    And now for the question, Is Capitalism Sustainable? I believe it is, and I also think it is the basis on which our North American countries were built. It doesn't matter if we are employed by an industry of capitalism or own one, as long as we work we benefit from the fruits of our labor.

    I think Capitalism at its base is primarily the attempt to better ones life as an individul by producing something of value to others. The greater the preceived value the more the individual or capitalist benefits.

    Take a natural resource that we in North America take largely for granted, water. If two people live next to each other and they are both thirsty and one of these people decides to dig a well. Who gets the water? Should it be shared between the person who dug the well and their neighbour? Perhaps your neighbour hasn't the physical means to dig a well, what happens then? Should the person who expended the effort to get the resource just hand some of it over to another who didn't? After all the person who dug the well doesn't actually own the water.

    But wait, isn't this exactly what the people who believe in the distribution of wealth insist should happen?

    How many people are going to be willing to dig the wells if their efforts are only rewarded by providing for needy people?

    However even if the person is not capable of digging a well there is a good chance that they can provide or prduce something else of value which can be traded for the water. Perhaps they can hunt or make containers to transport the water in so the person that dug the well can get his water to a larger customer base. Then the two neighbours could form an agreement from which they would both gain greater benefit from tthen either one would as an individual.

    And so on and so forth

    How can this not be sustainable??
    • Mar 15 2013: Dangerous territory when you start talking about economically viable. We will be talking about a cull of the elderly once they outnumber the employed, or in you example, not enough digging for water.
      • Mar 15 2013: Good evening Craig. I don't believe that captialism is absolute, as your comment leads me to believe. Like everything else in the world it's not absolutely black and white. If you are implying that the elderly have no value in a capitalistic society then I must disagree. Knowledge is a valuable an asset as digging a well. Typically the eldest in a family is the most revered, with others coming to them for advice and information. Just look at the age of some of the great leaders in our world currently, including the most recently elected pope.

        That aside lets say your or my father was at an advanced enough age where his mind and body are failing, I know for my father or in our case my wifes father we were more then happy to use the benefits gained from our capatilistic success to support him until the end of his life.

        We didn't ask for anything extra from you, your friends or anyone else for that matter.

        And finally, the question at the beginning of this thread was "Is Capitalism Sustainable" I answered that question with reasons why I think it is. So if you don't believe that capitalism is sustainable why not start a new thread stating that you don't and provide reasons why you don't?

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.