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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 16 2013: The economic history of the past century is proof that unrestricted capitalism is not sustainable.

    When profit is the only motive, basic long term thinking and goals go out the window. Deregulation, a hallmark of untempered capitalism produces short term growth and profits, but will ultimately have repercussions for the future.

    Look at what countries suffered the most from the recession, especially Britain and USA which were deregulated to great immediate growth by Margret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan respectively. The countries which are doing best have embraced the principles of capitalism and competition, while maintaining safeguards and plan for the future. In Scandinavia, countries like Sweden have managed to maintain a vibrant manufacturing industry, unionized and subject to Government regulations but still competitive.

    Ultimately, Capitalism is a system which fosters exponential growth, and this growth has already begun to strain the limited planetary resources. A balance must be found, historical examples of unbridled expansion abound. A balance must be found or risk the fate of Easter Island but on a global scale
    • Mar 16 2013: Phillip,
      Bang on! Unbridled capitalism may be useful for taking a country from pioneer days to a modern civilization but its constant demand for more, more, more growth eventually begins to harm the society it inhabits. It must be taken in hand and put under 'heavy manners' and strict control of the society.

      Capitalism is a tool. Nothing more. It does not deserve to run the society for its own benefit. That is not why men come together and form societies. Our society exists for our benefit - not that of ANY economic system. We need to get our capitalist economic system under control and keep it there. It's a fine system when used right; just like any other tool when used right. But it can burn us badly if we keep on allowing it to run rampant over our society.
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        Mar 17 2013: exactly it must be recognized that capitalism has no loyalty. Not to any state, not even to Humanity, it is a forest fire, if controlled beneficial, but must be monitored closely
        • Mar 17 2013: Phillip,
          Monitored closely hell....! It must be controlled firmly and strictly. It is, by its very nature, rapacious to an extreme degree. It must be held to doing only what is beneficial to the society. Capitalism operates solely for profit; our society operates solely for the benefit of its members. To me the social system is therefor the prime system and takes precedence over all other systems we use. People come first. They come first as individuals and as a group. No economic system should ever interfere with that.

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