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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: Tyler,
    I'm 72 and been around the political block more times than you can imagine. It all sucks. The whole concept is wrong. It is, as I'm sure you know already, so prone to corruption that is simply doesn't do what we, the people want it to do. Not ever. I can't do that because it's not designed for that. We want a democracy and our system is designed for a republic. In a nutshell, a screwdriver can't do the job of a table saw.

    There is only one way to have the country run as we want it to be run. It is the one way that those people who just love having the power to tell others what to do have tried to avoid us coming up with for centuries.

    Do you remember hearing of the old adage that goes - "If you want a thing done right, you have to do it yourself"?

    Well that's it. Until and unless 'we, the people' are ready and willing to do it ourselves, we'll keep on putting it in the hands of others. Those others will keep on abusing that power so as to keep on having that power. And guess who is always going to get the shitty end of the stick in that case?

    Consider how you'd like it if there were no political parties or politicians. Suppose we dumped them all and chose our social managers, by lottery, from among all the adult, mentally competent, no-criminal population? Put them in social management positions for ONE TERM ONLY. No elections and no re-elections means no career politicians. Just ordinary, honest, decent folks taking care of business in an ordinary, honest decent way on behalf of their society and its people.

    Now Mr. Average Joe Lunchpail might not be as clever as those politicians but which would you rather have in management, a decent regular citizen or a clever crook?

    Now don't just mumble, "Couldn't work", because it damned well could work. And it could work because everybody would make it work. Think how much better off we'd all be if a few assholes couldn't get us into foreign wars, just to start with. I'm out of space but think about it!
    • Mar 17 2013: All right, I like where you're going with this and I promise I won't mumble anything like that! I especially like the idea of term limits and eliminating the career politician. My only concern with the guy who got drawn out of the hat is accountability and making sure that he answers to most of us. How would you address that? I agree with you on the foreign wars too. Every time I hear politicos talking about their justification for their various boondogles it drives me nuts.

      Ok, here's another idea that I like: The government closest to you should be the government with the most power (talking about state, city, federal here) What if we said that individual cities got a lot more lee way in deciding how things got done? That way my vote and your vote matter a whole lot more, it's easier to have a face to face with people in charge and we could have more diversity of governments and allow more people to decide how THEY wanted to live. Thoughts?
      • Mar 17 2013: Tyler,
        This is an example of how hard it is to think with new concepts. Even though we've discussed getting rid of elections you're still asking me what I think of a way that you suggest would "make our votes count a whole lot more."

        In "my" society, there'd be no voting. Management of our society would automatically be more oriented to the local scene because our - lottery chosen - managers would be local!

        This system would break the traditional pyramid of power that exists today as it has done all down through history. Can you understand that it is not because men of evil intent have been in power that things didn't go well, it is because that pyramid of power creates situations that turn ordinary people into predatory monsters when it corrupts them with power.

        That is why I insist on one term in management only. Not long enough to get corrupted. We've got to deal with human beings as they are and they sure aren't angels. We are all of us susceptible to being corrupted. We have to recognize our shortcomings and design our system so that those weaknesses are taken into consideration and prevented from harming us or our fellow members of society.
        • Mar 17 2013: Larry, Ok that clicks now. I agree with you on most of this stuff now, especially the point on corruption and how it's something common to all of us, That definitely turned on the light.

          Now my only concern is, and maybe I'm just not getting it yet, how would you make the local leader accountable to me and you? Or for example, I'm pretty out there and I'm sure most people wouldn't agree with my way of thinking on things. So if a guy like me got drawn, I might tick everybody off? What about drawing more than one? That way if you got a crazy like me, the other 2 or so people in the executive position could at least keep me from doing anything...tooo obnoxious?
        • Mar 17 2013: For me this thread conjures the notion of the tragedy of the commons. Smith's invisible hand is at odds with the greater good. Look at the public outcry against large companies offshoring their profits to minimize the taxes they pay in the US. Is it fair that GE only pays only a couple percent in income taxes on the billions they post in earnings every year, while middle class taxpayers pay 20-30% or more? Well, no. But do these same taxpayers own stocks in mutual funds and in their 401k plans, that include companies like GE who are doing the same thing? Well, yes - bluechippers rule! Well, which do you want? nice returns in your portfolio, or equitable taxation arrangements?

          Living here in California we're taxed to death. And with our proximity to Mexico there are a lot of immigrants working here illegally. Whenever the media gets ahold of a story about an undocumented worker sending their kid to public schools, using medicare, or collecting other publicly subsidized benefits there is a huge outcry. But we sure do like a nice $6 bottle of merlot. So - which do you want?

          With American-style capitalism, the corporation with the rights of an individual is acting rationally, in its own self-interest, at the expense of the society within which it exists. Tragedy of the commons. And unlike the old days, there isn't even anyone to send to jail, or otherwise hold accountable, when things go pear shaped.

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