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Luke Hutchison

TED Fellow,

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 14 2013: PROS:Most commentators feel either one way or the other that the world is more materially affluent and technologically advanced with the advent of capitalism.
    -Moreover some have argued that over time service oriented businesses which offer serious solutions to an life-threatening situations often garner more sustained profits over time.
    - The innovations that have come out of it are commendable.
    - In a sense capitalism leans closer to a meritocracy than most other economic systems that we have known.
    CONS:
    -Capitalism is synonymous with consumerism, cost cutting, quality compromises and a multi trillion dollar marketing and advertising industry among other things.
    -Advertising and gimmicky marketing are surely a bi-product of modern capitalism and the open market. In my mind in their modern avatar, they are exploitative and misleading.
    - We see tonnes of 'fun' but useless things which people buy irrespective of utility.
    - Capitalism has given rise to a patent system that in cases actually makes it harder for important innovations to enter the market.
    -More over we see technology and services being replicated and doing exceedingly well because they are repackaged. In some cases therefore innovation is thwarted!

    Conclusion:
    -Capitalism is sustainable and desirable if reformed.
    -What has to change is the pure evil, contentious, individualistic disregarding attitudes which it sometimes celebrates.
    -What needs to change is the banking system which supports it. Finance and rocket science should be different domains. less money should be earned through 'speculation.'

    The human race is going through a great and turbulent evolution in consciousness and capitalism in itself does little or nothing to transform or adapt to changing ideologies. Today we are more aware, intelligent and able. We need a more intelligent and less destructive economic system to drive social change.

    Reformation in order!!
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      Mar 15 2013: Reformation is in order... but what reform? The The Pros listed are are reasonable evaluations, but some of the cons?
      You seemed to have said that mankind with his evolution in science and technology still goes out to purchase silly stuff only because we get sold a bill of goods.
      So we are getting smarter being stupid?
      I also question this strong desire for materialistic items and little thought given to greater consciousness. I see too many double income families where children are literally abandoned, while the parents are out supporting the mini mac mansion with the 3 car garage. Americans will understand this metaphor.
      To make matters worse, too many people in other parts of the world after seeing American movies, seem to hold that lifestyle as their new cultural goals.Others use them as a sign of decadence and validate their reasons to destroy America.
      The thing that bothers me most is the common thread throughout this conversation that implies that capitalism may be OK if we bring it under some kind of control.
      My question is "Whose Control?" Scientist? Politicians? The guy down the street?
      My concern is that every time someone or some small group have come in control of society, the outcome has not been "completely desirable"
      • Mar 16 2013: I share your curiosity. Frankly, each individual has the right to his or her own money because we have the right to our own work. People should mind their own business literally. I just wish we actually had true free markets. I feel like right now the government makes it impossible for a young guy like me to succeed because of so many regulations. And I'm even more frustrated that in substance both parties do the same thing. Everybody want's more government control. Where can I go if America continues to destroy her own free markets?
      • Mar 18 2013: @mike colera....thanks for your reply.
        As for what reform?
        I am not an expert and don't have many grandiose ideas. But the few I think will work(intuitively) focus on making our societies more virtuous and more rewarding towards virtuosity.
        -One great way of realizing this the idea that prizes be distributed for work that is commendable and re distributive in nature.
        --The opposite will only uphold the above. for example: Actions which amount to treason or sedition in many countries are taken very seriously and the offender is either required to be extradited or imprisoned for life. Their family names are shamed and redemption often becomes elusive like a mirage in the ever ending dessert.
        Yet for capital crimes committed by corporations against the workforce employed in third world countries and elsewhere and/or environmental violations of indubitable seriousness, the lack of a company's/organization's commitment to sell products which are healthy(tobacco, coca cola and other poisons make their way into our homes and we actually pay taxes to buy them), innovations which are more sustainable(where are battery operated cars?) and intelligent, ramifications are a lot more relaxed.
        -Governments in most countries do little to support such change (compare this to money spent by any country on oil excavations or on weapons).
        -Sometimes offences which to any common man's eye are simply criminal in nature are dropped because the law is complex, convoluted and worded ambiguosly to see some pretty obvious offences to their logical end, amercement, dissolution etc. I have heard of arbitration processes which(in my country and in some notable developed countries) have lasted for decades over issues which were quite obviously offences.
        -There are plenty of smart people in powerful places who contribute to these pages. I am sure they're clued into all of this. But it is hard for them to reach an agreement on a basic humanism, which seems to underpin our day and age?
      • Mar 18 2013: As for the who part....
        -There is an idea a thinker called Robert Michels penned down in 1911. It was called the 'iron law of oligarchy.' It states power only shifts from a few to a few. I agree with that idea, it is well demonstrated historically and in the present. Hierarchies exist even in some truly stoic monastic orders.
        -Power is contagious and it shifts, it doesn't matter who it goes to as long as they can be held accountable and responsible to it. Checks and balances on power didnt worked too well anywhere.
        Transparency in action and intention is something that is doing much better.
        WE SEE THE WORLD BECOMING MORE TRANSPARENT AS WE SPEAK! Activists, reformers and good citizens should capitalize on this new development in a more fervent and impact-full way.
        -I don't think power or change should be the exclusive right of any group.
        A notable Indian Thinker and social reformer Vivekananda brought a crude but profound aphorism to popularity. It goes "a dogs tail remains curled up or crooked no matter how much you straighten it out." There is no perfection in this world. There never will be.
        I believe in massive upheavals and revolutions, but not on the surface. Any political or economic system seems to be inspiring in its ideals. You seem to hold that view for free market economies.
        Capitalism has some notable PROS. One that I missed earlier was social mobility.
        But that being said you seem to have misconstrued what I was trying to spell out above. Which was
        CAPITALISM IN its current avatar IS NOT OK! IT NEEDS TO BE REFORMED.
        WE DON'T NEED REVOLUTIONS ON THE SURFACE TO AMEND IT(institutional or organizational).
        WE NEED A MUCH DEEPER, MORE INTELLIGENT AND MORE SERIOUS REVOLUTION!
        One that includes everyone and everything to be more awake and alert
      • Mar 18 2013: Secondly, which cons are you in disagreement with?
        Thirdly, I am in agreement with your metaphor and coming from a country where more and more "educated people" feel it is fashionable to watch american soap operas over learning their native languages! Most minds are feeble. Most people don't have an opinion and all that glitters isn't gold.

        @Tyler.
        I don't know about which regulations make it harder for you to succeed. But in some situations correct regulations have allowed for young innovators to succeed and to do good while they're at it.

        Lets say the government lifts all regulations on you and other companies around you tomorrow. What do you think will happen?
        I would argue that unless some huge redistribution program was in order, you'll be swallowed up and chewed to the bone by a bigger fish.

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