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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 26 2013: For the sustainability of the capitalism, we must look at the human nature at the base of all human activities in economic, political and social systems.
    Start with the rural/hunting mood with the barter system. this can no longer be applicable when the world has evolved into international trading and it is impossible without MONITARY systems and commercial negotiations. And then the industrial revolution came and capital and labor became essential ingredients in the economic system.
    Lots of the comments here involve pro or counter the capitalism, the latter was usually based on the "exploitation of the human labor by the capitalist., The lives of the labor force in the modern capitalist countries are already better than those under the feudal system or the agriculture societies.
    I agree that the labor is treated as commodity in many ways, but this becomes less important than a couple of centuries ago because of automation and global free market competition, a person with a particular skill or creativity will be able to find a job with higher pay because he will be sought after by many potential employers.
    Some comment said that communist government will treat the labor force better, but the past history hasn't bear this out. I know this as a fact that one of the communist leaders used or persuaded a bunch of adults and children to liquidate the "capitalists" by using them as spies, prosecutors, judges. jurors, torturers and executioners, the victims were not necessarily guilty as charged. Many of these doing this "labor" weren't being paid. Do you think these or other labor at that time were better off than the labor of our time?
    In other word the good or evil of an economic system can't be based only on itself, but on the HUMAN NATURE of the operators within the system. The DEVIL IS IN US. One person may have 1% moral and 99% evil, another could be in reverse. It's very, very rare that a person can be 100% moral. Even if there is one, he can't last long!

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