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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: Hi Mike,

    Private property is an invention used to control populations - control is a good thing up to a certain point , and laws which use the concept of private property to make theft, for example, illegal are useful.

    So PP is an artificial, man made tool - it is NOT a natural phenomenon. To verify this apply this concept to say a flock of sheep, or birds, or a school of fish. Do they see any property boundaries? Now look at yourself. You think you are a discrete organism, right? Well, you're not. You depend biologically on millions of organism with separate physical identities - by number, what you are is only 10% you - most of you is bacteria, by mass most of you is you thankfully. So even your most intimate personal existence is part of a living, moving pool of biomass which sits on the surface of the planet like the skin on an apple. You are not a discrete organism, we share the air we breathe and the water we drink. We depend on each other all the time, we are a society.

    I said the concept of private property is good up to a point. Beyond that point you see the idea as important than life. After that you are entering into a sick world, your mind is no longer healthy.....you have lost contact with reality. Unfortunately these imaginary worlds can be sustained over long periods if they get embedded in systems of indoctrination (Nationality, Education, Churches, Political philosophies, many many human institutions are devoted to promoting some ideology over real life)... Sickness over health. Not good

    Returning to the Good, Material PP is verbal and mental shorthand for respect for other people. Respect, natural, not a universal, but a general rule in animal communities. Material Respect in human society can be better expressed in other ways, eg via the concept of Biological Rights - a right to sufficient clean air, wholesome water and food, and the right to pleasurably associate with other beings.

    Social infrastructure to follow.
    • Mar 20 2013: Well actually animals are quite territorial as are humans and I would argue that if and when observed closely there is no respect in the animal kingdom either. We see Younger lions overthrowing their own ancestors, infanticide, parasites etc. plus I don't think something as ambiguous and subjective as respect exists anywhere but in human societies. Ecosystems are very intelligent, but the semblance of order in the animal kingdom comes mostly from fear of life.
      What sets us apart from animals is our ability to rise above our nature and embrace higher consciousness.
      But as a species (as we speak), we are more twisted than anything else because everything we seem to touch dies.
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      Mar 20 2013: Alan: Umaid Gupta has said what I have known all along. People are no damn good.
      • Mar 20 2013: Hey, take it easy! People are animals, and as animals we're just fine ! It's just a small detail that we got smart and intelligent and are now in danger of swamping out a whole bunch of other species, their loss and ours.

        It's possible to fix this by cutting back on excessive consumption and ploughing effort into conservation, spreading information around the community and potentially teaching monkeys to speak because they know a lot about how to do stuff that we don't. Other species like the crocodile have lots to teach us about sustainability!
        • Mar 20 2013: alan sloan: I am an optimist like you.
          I forgot all about Crocodiles and monkeys.
          Although I still think we have more than a steep hill to climb. After making it to the top we may still have to shift our brain from just above our knees to our head.
          BUt then there are crocodiles.
          So I am an optimist.
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          Mar 21 2013: Alan: Isn't this "excessive consumption " you describe the measure of human civilization? So, if I understand, if we were to focus on conservation which is not a bad thing, how much of the evolution of civilization do we curtail. Do we return to the 1950s, 1850s, 10,500 (bce). Now, this human trait of advancing their civilization by doing bigger and better things, WIFI eyeglass, etc., you would curtail by focusing on available resources and future requirements, which we know will never happen.
          You then fault for my comment ??? You and Umaid deserve to be optimist.
          I will remain a realist.
        • Mar 22 2013: If you insist excessive consumption is a mark of civilization. Although when I think of civilization I think of great art, literature, engineering and architecture. In noway is the Roman or Egyptian marketplace symbolic of the civilizations of which they were a part. What lasts and lives on is quite different. So this point though disputable is arguable both ways.

          However excessive consumption certainly isn't in any way measure of the human species, which is so much more than that. Great thinkers of yore feel the two things that set us apart are the ability to rise above our natural tendencies and the ability to move towards ideals or perfectionism.

          On this reading, therefore, I think that while we have become a lot more intelligent than we were, we are at this time, only coming to grips with our potential for intelligence. It is inevitable that evolution will keep taking its course and lead us to a time when we are far smarter, sensitive, noble and efficient than we currently are. In that sense I am a realist.

          I believe this process will become the primary preoccupation of human kind very very soon. I also believe we will be able to put our differences to the side and remove all hindrances to see this end to fruition. So I am an optimist too.

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