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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 19 2013: Capitalism is a tool. It has been around since the beginning of social development, even before money was invented. If a community was willing to feed and house creative people, those inventive types could produce better tools to improve the lives of those around them. Capitalism can be of great benefit if used wisely; see micro-loan organizations like Kiva. Or, Capitalism can do great social harm, such as by Manufacturers growing their profits by pulling out of advanced economies to take advantage of serf societies. Look at the decline of America, living on credit instead of goods produced.
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      Mar 19 2013: Capitalism as they like to call it , resembles a new form of what I call "Communist Capitalism" . I say this because we are led to believe that the Communist system is the state owns the business and the state profits . Where as the Western form of Capitalism the state does not own the business, but instead the state (taxpayer) is expected to finance a failing or start-up business and all the profit goes to the business.

      Thus leaving the state (taxpayer) footing the investment as a forgiveable loan.So what we have here is "Communist Capitalism". Add on top of the state financing , taxbreaks and companies set up offshore bank accounts....we have a form of robbery by legislation. In the end it will always be the 99% who carry the burden .
      • Mar 19 2013: My understanding is the system you call "Communist Capitalism" where corporate interests collude with government to make more money is usually referred to as Fascism.
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          Mar 19 2013: Yes that would be correct...& this is where we are at . We might not be at Fascism, but we are surely headed in that direction. When you see democracies like Cyprus , being taken over by the IMF and the world bank, one can conclude , government by political parties and business have set that tone.
      • Mar 19 2013: Wayne, I think you are sugar coating it. Communism is when the government owns the business, the capitalism we currently practice is when the businesses own the government. Period. Does DepAg work for people or companies? 90% of AMericans want GMO labelling, but Dep Ag and FDA are fighting it tooth and nail. Why? Because SecAg VIlsack is so in bed with Monsanto they should probably just get married already. The food industry doesn't want it, people do, and who does the government support?

        We just fought a war to destabilize the world's second largest oil reserve, thereby the whole market driving up prices. WHat do we think is gonna happen when we elect the grandchild of Standard Oil's founder, and make the key shareholder in Halliburton his VP? The Banana Wars at the turn of the century, any number of dictators along the way... why does Iran hate us so? Because we upset a popularly elected leader with a coup by a CIA backed dictator, who then tortured and repressed the same religious leaders that are there today. And all at the behest of the oil companies, who didn't want their fields nationalized.

        Officially Ken, I believe we need a dictator to meet the dictionary definition of Fascism; don't think we have a name for yet ,when it is corporate oligarchy masquerading as democracy... but the end results are the same, right?
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          Mar 20 2013: Scott: I guess we are both on the same page.
        • Mar 22 2013: Scott,
          A dictatorship need not have one dictator. We have the interesting phenomenon of having a system whereby we alternate dictators. At least we appear to do so and that seems to satisfy the sheeple that they are "choosing" their dictator.

          In reality, of course, it is the oligarchy who is the real dictator. And yes, fascism is indeed alive and well in the world of today. I see little mention of who the "behind the scenes" true dictator of dictators is but a careful look at things reveals that it is the big banks. Same old story - follow the bucks to see what's really going on.
      • Mar 20 2013: Capitalism has many expressions...social, political, cultural etc. But in essence(and this is the classic marxist/hegelian view on production) capitalism is about goods, commodity chains and particularly about entitlements along the chain.
        Someone cuts a tree and gives it to a factory. In it hundreds of people slave all day to make a pencil. The pencil is then sold in the market. In our current system those who add most value to the piece of wood, i.e the hundreds of workers who labor in factories to create the product....receive the least share of profit from the final sale of the pencil basically because they are the most dispensable group in the whole value addition process. Factory owners have the machines, they also supply marketeers who package the product and give it a unique identity. There are fewer factory owners and marketeers.

        With respect to entitlements communist regimes are essentially the same. Although the state owned everything and there was less variance in salaries in factories and produce was pretty much free, workers were fundamentally isolated from perks and power that the state controlled.

        That being said, I believe that intrinsic disparity in entitlements of the many and the few will hold true across all systems and at all times. So call it what you may.

        I guess while I am in agreement with scott I find it appropriate to add that in the current system corporations own more than the government. They own our thoughts, plagued by false stories of hope inseminated in our brains by a biased media and countless never ending ads etc. We live in an age where people have no trouble believing that something as important and invaluable as time is worth money. I think this sometimes means that money is the best thing you can get out of your time.
        IDiocy, blasphemy, zombiness.

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