TED Conversations

Jah Sun
  • Jah Sun
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • United States

CEO, Water Charity


This conversation is closed.

What alternatives are there to the current economic system? Should global capitalism fail, what would be the best model to replace it?

There are a ton of people who are dissatisfied with how our current system operates. Quite a few people are coming to the conclusion that this system is endemically flawed.

The Occupy movement is merely the most obvious and vocal outgrowth of a sentiment that many feel very strongly... namely that our Capitalist model of resource and labor management is unfair, environmentally unsound, inefficient, and unsustainable.

The fact that the people who profit the most in our system are often people who do little or no actual work is fairly self-evident. The hardest work, like toilet cleaning, often garners the most minimal of recompense, while investing in abstract economic instruments like the S&P Index can net one millions of dollars in a 10 second phone call placed from a poolside lounge chair in a 5-star resort.

Given that any system, no matter how well designed, can be improved... this debate is an attempt to spark a rational conversation on what we could do to make the exchange of goods and services more just, more effective, and more healthy for the biosphere.

There are scant few models out there that even propose any clear alternative. Most of the writing on the subject amounts to either pure critique of the current system, or pie-in-the-sky Utopian idealism with no clear path to get from here to there.

So, brilliant TED lovers... anyone got any good ideas?

We can discuss the pros and cons of such extant alternative models as The Venus Project, the "Basic Income" (ala B.I.E.N.), some of the ideas presented in Pinchbeck's latest Evolver essay compendium "What Comes After Money?" or any other relevant topic that tickles your fancy. Feel free to defend global capitalism if that is how you feel.

Let's keep it civil and worthy of this esteemed venue. Logic, clarity, rationality, and respect are paramount.

It is worth pointing out that what is better or best, in this case, will be considered in light of all people and the biosphere we share.


Closing Statement from Jah Sun

It has been quite an interesting exploration.

Inspiring , frustrating, informative... but most of all, it has brought certain things into sharp focus.

The basic question of "what alternatives to the global economic system are there?" has been only cursorily addressed, because the answer is that there really AREN'T any that are ready for prime time. We've seen plenty of good fixes, adjustments & modifications... some quite striking & comprehensive... but nobody has been able to put forth a clear model of what we could actually do INSTEAD of the current status quo, should this model fail.

And, fail it could... make no mistake about that.

Also, I don't think the focus should be on what is best for US Citizens (or any single nation state or group of nations). The problem is already trans-national. National solutions to trans-national problems tend to prove disastrous. Unilateral actions & heavy handed moves in one nation's interest should become a thing of the past as people wake up & realize that we all share this one Earth, that national boundaries are imaginary lines drawn by people who often never even visited the place in question, and that humanity is going to have to work together if we want to solve the major issues of our time.

As far as short term fixes go, fractional reserve banking & debt based currency need to go. Lara posted this link: http://issuu.com/margritkennedy/docs/bue_eng_interest to an e-book which does a good job showing how this monetary system is crippling us.

The data that Richard Wilkinson put forth in his TED talk (linked in the intro) argues for us to recognize that economic inequality hurts everyone... even the ones at the top. The most equal societies are clearly the healthiest & most successful.

I think the Basic Income Guarantee is a good place to start in addressing the remorseless & uncivilized blight of abject poverty.

It is clear that we need to redress our priorities as a society.

Another conversation will follow.


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    Nov 15 2011: Orlando, My contention is that our so called Institutions of higher learning, corporations and government all for the most part don't have a clue about the causes and effects of their collective actions. My evidence? Show me where anyone has effectively connected 'cause with effects' relative to environmental damage? In forestry a field I'm most involved with, everyone seems to be on board with "restoration' but its totally disconnected from the causes that created the need for restoration in the first place. When I have attempted to suggest that we need to hold monies in escrow for the litany of damages (restoration needs from soil loss threw invasive species, changing dynamics of birds and insects and carbon sequestration that never attains the values it had as an intact old growth forest etc... ) that follow the clear cutting paradigm I'm laughed at. In part because it would hold them ACCOUNTABLE. However if we did hold monies in escrow for all the externalizations and unintended consequences that follow, we could begin to understand the significance of cause and effect. Without it, cause and effect are effectively DISCONNECTED. This is an example of how corporations complicit with education and with research obscure the real effects of our 'management'. Do show me where any corporations who plunder for profit are willing or doing meaningful whole systems thinking and cost analysis? I'd be most interested.
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      Nov 16 2011: Craig,

      Correct me if I'm wrong but I think there are two different things that are being talked about here: (1) the knowledge of ones actions (cause and effect). (2) taking responsibility for these actions (being held accountable).

      I think your wrong in regards to their ignorance of cause and effect. I've already provided evidence for you about that (the depletion of natural resources, profit over everything, etc) and if you want more evidence I'll be happy to give you more evidence without a problem.

      Now, in terms of accountability I think I can agree with you on that one being that laws are created to justify such actions but this has nothing to do with their ignorance of cause and effect.

      So your basic assertion is that if corporate leaders knew the cause and effects of their actions, they would then be compelled to take accountability for their actions? We would hope so but the fact that their actions are protected by laws and the fact that their excessive self-interest is justified by living in a system in which we must continually strive to make money and obtain as much power as necessary really does not support your claim that they are unaware.

      You mentioned "This is an example of how corporations complicit with education and with research obscure the real effects of our 'management'".

      Of course they would. What these corporations and educational systems are doing is fudging the facts to support their own agenda. It has nothing to do with the fact they they are unaware of cause and effect. What is going on with that is that they realize that the public opinion is actually far different than the opinion of the opulent. They have to find a way to satisfy and control the public mind. So by using words like "managing" and "conserving", they are creating an image that would show that they are to a degree "environmentally conscious". This is classic public manipulation.

      BTW: There are many laws that prevent clear cutting in "endangered areas"
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        Nov 16 2011: This is a prescient distinction.

        I too see that the disconnect seems to lie after the knowledge and before the responsibility. Meaning that these businessmen are often aware of the information vis a vis their destructive behavior, but simply unwilling to allow themselves to be held accountable for those actions.

        It is the time honored game of "pass the buck." Like the juvenile version of the game (hot potato), no one wants to get caught holding the bag of sh*t.

        So in the banking crisis, everyone was happy to let Lehman Brothers go down... point accusative fingers at Fannie and Freddie... even blame AIG... anything to avoid taking their share of responsibility.

        This is not ignorance, but rather conscious damage control and attempting to "get away with murder." In Craig's example of the timber industry, I refuse to believe that the executives or the brains they keep in their employ are not smart enough to connect clear-cutting to restoration, soil erosion, desertification, loss of biodiversity and the rest. They would have to be clinically brain damaged. (Actually, that would be insulting the mentally challenged...)

        It is the same old song and dance. Remember the Big Tobacco guys going before the committees swearing up and down they had no idea that cigarettes are bad for people. That wasn't ignorance... that was bald-faced lying. After all, they only took a poisonous deadly nightshade, and then 600 ingredients (most of them even worse for you), and created a product that has over 4000 distinct chemicals in its smoke... all carefully designed to hook people into addiction.

        They put fiberglass in the filters (to replace the old cotton ones) to cut your lungs and allow for greater absorbtion of the poisons... this is an accident? They are poor morons who don't know any better? They just HAPPEN to get ridiculously wealthy off of the slow suicide of their customers...
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      Nov 16 2011: Hi Craig;

      'When I have attempted to suggest that we need to hold monies in escrow for the litany of damages (restoration needs from soil loss threw invasive species, changing dynamics of birds and insects and carbon sequestration that never attains the values it had as an intact old growth forest etc... ) that follow the clear cutting paradigm I'm laughed at.'

      Many permaculture practices are not taken seriously, but people are beginning to understand how vitally important this is if we are to achieve sustainable development. You are clearly ahead of your time, as is everyone who is at the forefront of change. One day you might be surprised, you might hear people repeating back to you the lessons you have been teaching for years, as if it is their own idea! Then you will know, nothing was in vain.

      I think one of the best thing I have read along these talks came from Jah Sun who reminded me that the Berlin wall came down in a day, and Apartheid fell in a matter of days, when I begun to think I would never see either thing happen.
      • Nov 24 2011: Are you really sure the Berlin wall as well as a revolution in 1917 in Russia happen over night? That is right if you watch it from a side probably, I have never seen that from a side. People awaked in another country, even did not by a ticket to. It seemed to be so easy: one big boom and change regime. But do not forget what happen before and after that night. That is years and ages, lives and deaths of our friends (even in Berlin case). TV makes us deaf to all this "small" problems. Everything is possible but it is not a case for trial-and-error method.
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          Nov 24 2011: Hi Serg, of course you are right, the perception that these changes occurred overnight is only a perception. In reality that they are always the result of a long and bitter fight. I think the comment relates more to the idea that although we sometimes think change comes as the long slow process, the turning point, the flash point, can happen quickly.
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          Nov 25 2011: As Joanne has said, no one is denying that a lot of blood, sweat, and tears go into laying the foundation for change, and that the Kodak moment we see on TV is the result of many many years of struggle... the point is more that seemingly impossible struggles have often come to a head and been resolved much faster than anyone could have imagined.

          Even the inner circle of the Kremlin, it seems, were taken by surprise at how fast the Soviet bloc came undone. For those of us who were unaware of the economic situation there, it certainly did seem like an overnight phenomena. But even those in the know would not have bet on a reunified Germany coming so quickly.

          There was very little sign that the South African government was even willing to consider abandoning apartheid before it fell apart. I am pretty sure that Nelson Mandela himself would not have wagered that he would go from prison to president as fast as he did.

          The analogy is that what seems insurmountable and often inconceivable, may be right around the corner. And even those deep in the trenches are often dumbfounded when change finally does occur.

          If you would have asked Martin Luther King on his deathbed if he would even dream that America would have a black president 40 short years later, I'm willing to bet he would've laughed... hard. Shit, I could barely believe it was happening myself in the vastly improved racial climate of 2007.
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      Nov 20 2011: Obviously Craig, the current situation allows for corporations to nearly completely dissociate themselves from the effects of their actions, as well as ignore the communal and ecological aspects of the resources they utilize. Corporations, as they are currently structured, have only a single overriding motivation. They must make profits for their shareholders at all costs. If their earnings charts dip for a quarter or two, heads begin to roll.

      In such a setup, the idea that corporations could be counted on to "do the right thing," or put the needs of the people ahead of their net earnings... is ludicrous. The free hand of the market is used to pick the pockets of those who can't afford to defend themselves. Plants and animals can simply forget about being anything other than assets or obstacles to the almighty profit.

      When humans had a much smaller footprint on this planet, and the resources seemed inexhaustible, this behavior might have been merely greedy and rapacious. In today's climate of 7 billion humans, dwindling natural resources, and collapsing ecosystems... this behavior is downright heinous and psychotic.

      It is in recognition of the obviously suicidal nature of the current global economic (as well as political systems) that this conversation is asking for alternatives. Anything to improve the situation is welcome, but it seems clear that complete overhauls of how we look at wealth & resources are in order... hopefully sooner rather than later.

      The present state of affairs is that of monstrous beasts roaming the land, feeding on everything in sight, and when they step on your house or knock down your place of work... they never even consider picking up a broom and helping with the cleanup. BP is still making profits while the dolphins continue to die and the Gulf is still poisoned.

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