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Luke Hutchison

TED Fellow,


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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,
    We do. All of us. Our present political system is a failure. We need to replace that too, I'm afraid. As long as we use a political system where candidates need huge sums of money for campaign expenses, then those candidates can - and will be - bought. As we see now with every political party of any major influence.

    I'd prefer to see us select our social managers by lottery instead of by election. Elections may work OK in small areas where everybody knows everybody, but once they get of the size where few know the candidates then an election is really just an ad campaign competition. The one who spends the most money usually - not always - but usually wins. Not good. Those who win are beholden to those who put up the money. At that point they no longer represent we, the people, but instead represent those whose interests are not ours. Often those interests are directly opposite ours. I can't imagine how we think this is good governing. Or ever can be. It's time to take management of our society out of the hands of politicians and bring it home to we, the people. Yes, my friend, we have to do it ourselves. We just cannot afford to have our society governed by those whose interests are inimical to us.

    But this is a whole new topic now. Perhaps this is not the place for it.
    • Mar 16 2013: You're treating the symptom not the cause. The problem isn't that money buys elections, it's WHY does money buy elections? Because voters allow it. People who can vote, don't. People who do vote don't get involved enough or pay enough attention or they vote by "team." People don't go to conventions and get involved with picking candidates. That's the real problem. Treat the cause, not the symptom.
      • Mar 16 2013: Tyler,
        What you say is true about people not getting involved enough to make an electoral system work but that is still just a symptom. In real politics the political parties determine who people will get to vote for. All the hype and smoke & mirrors of political conventions are just circuses designed to keep the masses thinking that they still have some choices. I'll turn it back on you..... get involved. You'll see, as most of us have already done, that your ideas of political matters are naive at best. Politics is just another business, and in business money talks and bullshit baffles brains.

        As to your youthful admonition to "Treat the cause not the symptom", why do you say I should do that; why don't YOU do that? And just what 'treatment' would you, in your vast wisdom, suggest?
        • Mar 16 2013: Fair points and a fair challenge! I am involved especially at the local level and participated vocally at conventions. Now I did get voted down and my views aren't as popular with others in my party but I'm not giving up on it. I assume that you also are involved?

          Haha, ok, I won't claim any VAST wisdom but my first thought is that we need more people involved and we need a better way of facilitating the conversation, particularly at the stage where candidates get picked as "front runners" also, I hate the 2 party system and I'm straining to find a way around that, any thoughts? So far what I've got is for lack of a better term, revenue sharing among candidates. I don't know if I like this idea or not or even if it would work. Another thing that might be interesting is the use of tech to bring candidates closer to us in a sense. An official government forum or online public square and limit the amount of money that can be spent elsewhere. These ideas aren't great I know and they are just compromises but still I'm interested in your view?
        • Mar 17 2013: Larry,
          I believe a lot of the things that you say especially about politics being a business and the candidate with the most money winning. My question on your lottery system is: Wouldn't this system give even more power to political consultants? The people running the show would have 1 year internship. That is not near enough time to figure out the solutions necessary, as we've shown with term limits. Although I thought these were a good idea and voted for them I have come to the conclusion that they benefit lobbyists who can convince inexperienced "leaders" to do what they want because of lack of experience. I see this as a major problem in your system. (Not that I think our system or legal bribery I.e. campaign contributions is any better).
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      Mar 16 2013: Larry, we started on the issue of redistributing the wealthof the deceased, and have ended up in a new topic concerning politics. My point with the questions: "Who do I make my will out to/" "How do we convince others to do this? If they cannot be convinced, can we force them?" Was to get to the point of saying that iany serious and timely change to our system of economics would require a change in some part of governing, and the problem with it is that someone has to be in charge, and when someone is in charge of redistributing our wealth, the real problems begin. The problem with any revolution, peacefull or otherwise seems to be that it puts the same sort of person back at the top. To quote Robert Frost: "Revolutions may be the only salves, but they are somting that should be done in halves." or better, The Who "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss!"
      • Mar 17 2013: James, You are correct of course. The problem, as I see it, is that no matter what form our governing bodies have taken, no matter what their supposed philosophy of governing is, they are all designed to fit into the same basic structure of social management. This structure resembles a pyramid in its shape. A few at the top run the show. They are supported enthusiastically by the tier under them because it too is very high up in the pyramid of power. And so on down the pile.

        I'd like to see us develop a horizontally organized form of social management. One where citizens are selected by lot to fill management seats for one term of about 3 years. No repeats.

        No elections where our choices are limited to those who take their orders from those who provide them with the financial means to run for office. No career politicians who need funds to keep getting elected. Citizens, chosen by lot to sit in those seats for one term will have none of the corrupt baggage that politicians carry around. Chosen by lot ensures that all demographics are fairly represented.

        You misunderstand me re the redistribution of wealth. Any person of wealth will still have it until he dies. Just as in our present system. After he dies people will inherit it - just as in our system. The only difference is that it won't go only to his own progeny - it'll be part of a generational birthright inheritance of all children born into the society.

        Since that wealth was derived from that society it ought to return to that society. This is not only fair and equitable, it is NECESSARY if capitalism is to perform its job of being a useful tool of society. Our present society is grinding to a halt due to so much of the wealth just sitting there. It is owned by a small percentage of the society who CAN'T keep it moving enough to make our form of capitalism work properly. Remember capitalism only works well when the wealth keeps moving.

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