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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: The question is framed incorrectly. You have to define capitalism first and then ask if it is sustainable. Then you have to realize that there is an element of relativity inherent to the question, is there something more sustainable than capitalism? Can it scale? And how do we define sustainable?

    Here's my concern with these type of arguments. There is a lot of knee jerk reactions here with a lot of emotion and not enough reason involved in the discussion.

    I define capitalism as the right to work as hard as I can to achieve my goals but not forcing other people to pay for my goals. In other words, I can build my own house but I can not make my neighbor help me. And if I, in the state of nature, can not force my neighbor to help me then I can't go get the government to force him for me. By this definition, America is not capitalist by fault of both parties for different reasons (Cronyism can work for many classes and both parties).

    I see no reasonable alternative to true free markets that would work better.

    Frankly, my dream is to live in a society where I am free to work as hard as I can and not have the government steal from my hard work and not tell me or anyone else how to live. Our current problem is that the government inserts it's self into the situation and protects people by giving them my money, Both the very rich (and typically Failing) corporation and the very poor who are taking a free ride.

    We don't solve this problem by having MORE government intervention, we will solve this problem by treating the cause, not the symptom. Get government out of our wallets, weed, bedroom, and business, etc.
    • Mar 17 2013: I think you're mixing the notion of Capitalism with what you believe the goals of society should be. Capitalism is an economic construct (roughly that those who invest wealth in an enterprise should own the profits, but that's a bit simplistic). What you're talking about is mostly political philosophy not economic.
      • Mar 17 2013: Capitalism is a political construct, maintained by specific accounting and regulation procedures. It is extremely inefficient economically.

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