TED Conversations

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 24 2013: Capitalism is sustainable provided it is flexible. The problem arises from the almost religious fervor with which free market economy is practiced.
    Capitalism overall has definitely contributed to innovative ideas and growth. Inequality is a by-product that has to be solved by modifying existing frame-work. This is of special relevance to developing economies like India.
    The practice of communism has not resulted in growth and freedom and has been wiped out from some countries. While equality principle is laudable, in the first place there should be wealth. Otherwise poverty equally gets distributed with the exception of the privileged.
    The philosophic issues are open to debate. Does incentive mean glorification of greed? Even then is it not the right way to channel it into productive use? Descartes said 'I think therefore I am'. Are we in a state that can be summed up as 'I consume therefore I am'? Some of the answers will arise from a flexible capitalism. Also capitalism may not be as free as we think. As Eric Fromm said capitalism involves 'soft kill' that involves bombardment with advertisement and other tools till people sustain the expected growth chart.

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