TED Conversations

Luke Hutchison

TED Fellow,

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 14 2013: Does anyone else believe in the promise of developing a concept such as Gross National Happiness (as coined by Bhutan's enlightened king Jigme Singye Wangchuck) to transition from capitalism-as-we-know-it to something more directly relating to sustainable and equitable happiness than placing personal accumulation of wealth as the summum bonum of capitalism?
    • Mar 15 2013: Franklin D's 2nd Bill of Rights would have attempted to this very thing! And I could not agree more!!
    • Mar 16 2013: Yes, I think metrics like the Human Development Index are very useful, but more as an indicator of the state of the system than for actually indicating the way forward. In very complex systems sometimes Backward is the best way to get a Forward, if you see what I mean! ;-)

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