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 26 2013: I find most human behaviors which promote balance, sustainability, fairness etc are not sustainable. Humans tend to forget to do the right things until reminded by an atrocity. Humans like being comfortable and will often sacrifice common sense and dissemination of equal treatment and rights to maintain their own comfort. Humans believe protecting their own is paramount and so do not truly care for or about others or will hurt others on purpose to preserve their own. And while there are many humans that resist this sort of selfish and evil nature, none of us are capable of eradicating it from out nature completely. Therefore, when systems are introduced that try to enforce behaviors that are not geared for survival of the fittest, they are torn down or worse, continue to operate in horrible and abusive ways. So the question is not so much about sustainability. It becomes more about what we actively want to fight and work towards as a people. For different countries, there are different answers. The problem in the U.S., I think, is that we are at a critical point where we will either evolve or fall apart. I don't know if enough time has passed for us to evolve. I don't think as a society we are educated enough. So if we continue to poke at it, we will fall.

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