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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 13 2013: This is the question that, at its core, will determine how we progress as a species. In my opinion the single most important issue of our time! For many millions of people living now, and to the souls that have died, the answer is NO! For many people Luke, capitalism could not sustain them, because they did not have the money to get into the game. Is Capitalism sustainable?, or can Capitalism sustain all of the People? Either way, the answer is NO. This is an issue that I have thought about for many many years, and I am now in the thought path of what it will take to bring about real change. And that means a Cultural change in in the minds and hearts of men as to what is important. As it stands, Money is more important than Human life, and has been for a long time, but the extremes are widening. In this country, we have a political system in which one side is basically about protecting people's money....not....PEOPLE. One post said something that I believe is at the base of who we SHOULD be. "No one asks to be born"! But yet while we all come into this world the same way, we are not all born in the same set of opportunities. This is one flaw in Capitalism, its not equal from the start, for everyone. And then there is the increasing population, along with technology changing the work place and absorbing jobs, exponentially! But even worse and glaringly obvious (and even more ignored) is the fact that the need for money, for EVERYTHING, is also the reason for 90% of all crime! The main reason for STRESS and a multitude of illnesses for humans. Capitalism, in the form of transferable currency is antiquated. What is the sense in having the material, the people, to build a much needed school, but then having a system in place where the bottom line is... "We are trying to cut spending, we can't afford that. We have to balance the Budget!!" This system, with all we are now capable of, makes no more sense! Its old and is neither SUSTAINABLE nor can it SUSTAIN us!!
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      Mar 13 2013: Since you see "capitalism" as the final Armageddon of human society, Just what would you replace it with and how would the new system work ?
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      Mar 17 2013: Mr. Shamwell, I agree with your thoughts.

      someone please explain to me what in the world changed so quickly when 2 hard working, responsible adults earn salaries that barely meet the family's basic needs, food, shelter, fuel, good health?

      I laugh when I hear the cry from those sitting at the round tables enjoying a life of security, about the need to address the alarming increase of obesity, violence, mental illness, drop-out rates in public schools, the war on drugs....on and on we go.

      Ladies and gentleman.... we are afraid and live in a state of stress, we are envious of those that end the day with basic needs stamped "PAID", we are angry about the enormous inequality of shared profits made from our labor, our public education system is antiquated and in dire need of reform but, it is primarily supported by local taxes and we are already taxed to the hilt,a much needed secondary education to be the least bit competitive in the 21st century economy has become a for profit institution, Good health...how many uninsured people in our country...too many for without it, the cost is astronomical, obesity...when did the cost of a shopping bag full of healthy food become such a financial struggle? Drugs....an escape more and more people seek, and you are correct about the of money for "everything" speaks to the rise in crime.

      capitalism started out as a good idea, and I agree Mr Shamwell, somewhere along the line the word PEOPLE left the equation. The truth be told "we the people" don't need all that much. I think the word Security speaks to what we all are seeking . Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs states it best: "Security of body, employment, resources, morality,the family, health and property". pretty basic.

      I don't know what I would replace capitalism with for I have little faith in the moral compass of human beings.
      • Mar 17 2013: And it is just that Mary Ellen, as you question the "Moral Compass" of Human Beings! This is the nail on the head statement. Just as the Compass of a Captain at sea can point his Compass anywhere he chooses, if the sound of the Sirens is just too strong to break away from, he will soon meet his peril. I have no doubt the Compass of mankind can be changed, but try to tell a Bank Executive who happens to hooked on Meds' he or she has a drug problem and they will tell you just the opposite. Empowerment is addictive, and nothing is more empowering than Money!
        The truth of the mater is, there is enough money for every single person of adult age to live comfortably on the planet. Their is enough money to break many of the cycles that feed impoverishment, build schools and educate all the children. Just in the US alone, we waste enough food every year to feed the enter Worlds hungry. But even thinking like this to Big Capitalist minded people and you are talking about "Hand Outs", "Taking My Money", "Taxing the Rich", "Feeding the Lazy"! Our whole political system (now) is about who controls the money.
        Quite frankly, I don't see the Human Race really taking that next step of its evolution with Wealth determined as we do today. The Wealth should always be in the Person. The Person who asked not to be born. The wealth should be in knowing that we have prepared the best possible situation for that person to feel useful to society and to himself. We are raping forests all over the world, not to create more jobs, but to generate more wealth in the form of money. This is so backwards. Capitalism will only insure that we deplete our resources. Resources that should not have any attachment to Wealth Creation. Have we become so weak that we have surrendered to the notion that as long as Capitalism works for SOME......Its Working???!!!

        Thank you for you thoughts Mary Ellen. And I thank Luke for asking such an important question that we should all revisit soon!

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