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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 16 2013: James,
    Think about the social order that I'm proposing. Everyone will inherit a fair bit of wealth. Enough, actually to allow them to live off the earnings of their shares, if they live modestly. What need would such people have to incur great debt?

    But, for the sake of argument, let's assume that some do build up huge debt and then die. Ask yourself how that is handled now? Your debts do not fall on your children's heads nor on the society. That is what lenders have insurance for - if they're wise. That risk is supposedly why it is legitimate for lenders to get paid interest on loans. I see no need for any different method of handling the debts of a deceased person, do you?
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      Mar 16 2013: No, not really, and I do understand that a society so structured would not aquire huge debt, or huge wealth, if people in that society were perfect and all as altuistic as us. How do we convince others to do this? If they cannot be convinced, can we force them?
      • Mar 16 2013: Now you're getting into the social system. I think it behoves us to forsake "forcing" them if it in any way violates their person. Societies since time began have had ways of getting the majority of members to conform to certain, socially desired, behaviour. Often it is just a matter of raising children in a manner that leads them to naturally see the benefits of being a part of their social system.

        One thing that would work well for us is that we will soon be doing away with cash money. All transactions will be by electronic means in the near future. This would allow of control of wealth transfer, no matter what form it takes.

        Getting it started is much more difficult than operating it once it is in place. My preference for initiating it is simply for people who like the idea to form groups and do it within the group. As its obvious benefits become apparent to others those groups will expand and grow until the majority of the population is involved.

        The biggest difficulty that I have with advancing this idea among others is that people are so damned impatient. They want an equitable and fair system NOW! Seldom are they willing to work towards one that won't be fully up and operating for generations. That is too bad for us because other societies - notably the Chinese and Indian societies - are made up of people who DO plan in terms of generations.

        It's time for us to begin planning our social order; designing it to serve us well, instead of just letting predatory capitalism - the American kind - have its way with us.
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          Mar 16 2013: Larry, that is where I see the problem. Aside from living an example, educating our own families, speaking out when we can, (and that is a good deal we can do) there is little that can be done to change a system of this type, or replace it without using force, political and or martial. Then we move into areas I think all of us would agree, did not work when tried in the past and are undesirable for the present or future. Who oversees this great change?

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