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 27 2011: Part1
    Alternative economic system or alternative life style?
    The question of life philosophy is the leading question.
    Economy systems are a part of a life philosophy.
    Unfortunately I cannot question the proper life philosophy suitable for 21 century people in a comment>
    that for I limit myself to some points related to the Alternative Economy question>
    From all the systems – Capitalism, Socialism, Communism, Theocracy I favor Capitalism. is closed to human being nature and not an ideal that isforced on people against human nature
    However the classic Capitalism needs changes.
    1:** Compete by creating values on initiative, creativity, efficiency, quality but not labor without social rights***
    Globalization is a good idea however it is badly implemented.
    Competition and work transfer should be limited by international conventions to countries and enterprises providing the same social benefits to the works.
    It should be enforce by lows in the attending countries.
    Only few people benefit economically from the technological revolution.
    They get richer only because they are in the junctions of decision making without contributing to create real prosperity.
    (Banks and corporation managers,high level officials-unlike the few start up entrepreneurs.
    All the others are losing.
    The people in the free world have straggled for over 100 years for 8 working hours,illness insurance,vacation, retirement benefits,right of employed.
    The last 3 decades they are losing social rights.
    People on the developing world lucky to get jobs don’t get western social benefits.
    Worldwide competition has a huge potential of distributing wealth across the globe.
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      Nov 29 2011: interesting but I have a question. Is it human nature to indulge in more than we really need or could ones environment and how concepts influence and transform the human mind have a role in this as well?

      I tend to think things like consumption, imperialism, competition, materialism, affluenza, etc are social constructs as opposed to being part of our biology.
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        Nov 29 2011: Orlando...

        You asked on another comment thread if we have gotten any real proposals going since you've been away, and I see you have found Mordechay's 3 part-er.

        I agree that we should focus the last 5 days on discussing this, Lara's idea (which mirrors my own admonishments against fractional reserve banking & debt based currency), and the other interesting proposals that have cropped up like reconomy.

        You will have noticed that since you left, a number of us have stopped responding to the poster in question. Sadly, though, he manages to suck others in to these endless and unproductive arguments while steadfastly refusing to even consider addressing the question of the conversation... even as a pure hypothetical. I suppose he feels it is his duty to correct the errors in everyone's thought processes ad nauseum.

        :-) Anyway, welcome back.
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        Dec 4 2011: No surprise, I agree Orlando, they are social contructs. Good to see you two again.
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          Dec 4 2011: Nice to see you too Joanne.

          Sadly this conversation is at an end... last thoughts time and all.

          But, I am sure we will see each other on another conversation relatively soon. I have a new one in mind to pick up where this one left off and be even more specific about what we can do.

          Be well...
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      Dec 1 2011: Okay, I realize that the time left for this debate is rapidly ticking out, but here goes:

      "Alternative economic system or alternative life style?"

      Both. Obviously they are not completely independent.

      Life styles are not things that are dictated from above, though. While they may be socially engineered to some degree (lifestyle taxes and whatnot), they are not the starting point for any meaningful change on a societal level. They ARE the main starting point for any personal change, however.

      A change in economic system and policy will effect a change in lifestyle to some degree, and it will open the door for members of society to begin the contemplation of how they actually want to live on this blue orb. IMHO.

      "From all the systems – Capitalism, Socialism, Communism, Theocracy I favor Capitalism."

      I don't believe that these 4 systems enumerate the sum total of possible ways that humans can organize their affairs. It is my conjecture that none of those systems will be in operation in 500 years. (You forgot Feudalism and Anarchy among others.)

      Basically, I am absolutely sure that the system of the future has yet to be invented. Thus, this conversation was an attempt to get people thinking about the alternatives. It may have been co-opted and derailed to a large degree, but in doing this exercise, I realized that this is actually not an efficient forum for such in depth discussions. Places like this, can only amount to sounding boards and allow for some superficial sharing of basic concepts and links, while being prone to divisive tangents and a lack of overall coherence.

      As for your changes to Capitalism, my comments will proceed in the next reply. (2000 character limit)
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      Dec 1 2011: "Compete by creating values on initiative, creativity, efficiency, quality but not labor without social rights"

      I agree with this in principle. I'm curious as to how it would actually play out, but something along these lines should be factored into the economic system. Otherwise, there is no impetus for businesses to behave ethically. As it stands, there is no rational reason for them to care what happens to the citizens of any nation-state... or to the biosphere at large.

      "Globalization is a good idea however it is badly implemented."


      And whether it is a good idea or not, it is a reality and will never not be so. The cat will never go back into the bag so to speak. Nor should it IMO. Globalization is oft maligned, but the society of the future (should we be able to avoid destroying ourselves) will certainly be global. Nation states are already fairly well obsolete.

      The choice is not globalization or something else, but globalization as envisioned and manipulated by the current crop of multi national corporations, an even more totalitarian "New World Order," or something sane and somewhat democratic dreamed up and implemented by the people of the world, rather than imposed by the powerful.

      I think your idea of restricted trade to ethical nations is interesting, but somewhat unenforceable. It is like sanctions or prohibition... it just creates an incentive for Black Markets.

      Righteo... now on to pts. 2 & 3.
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        Dec 4 2011: I think the word 'globalisation' is a mis-nomer. We should express the term, 'global exploitation' to differenciate between trade systems which are sustainable and respectful of human and environmental needs and those that are not. Of course we would have to use the second term in most cases.

        I think this brings us to the heart of what we have been discussing. The very word 'capitalism', i.e. the accumulation of capital or labour, means exploitation. We must cease to glorify exploitation, to see it as a sign of 'success', 'progress' and 'development'. We must develop a way to continue to trade and work for survival , in a new way without exploitation. Similarily, we must also develop a new way to transact with the planet, if we are to stay within its natural limits and avoid our own exctinction.

        We are the 'god species' and we think we will continue forever. Our big fatty brain has led us to dominate and control nature for so long, that we think our clever inventions will beat all the planetry limits. We do not yet realise we can't drink Armani, we can't breathe an ipod.

        Like so many, I am good at pointing at the problem, but designing solutions is not so easy. Through this discussion, I have thought hard not only about solutions, but also what I can do personally to begin a process toward them. I have found your comments and links regarding the Anarchistic movement particularily helpful Orlando, likewise, Lara's and Jah Sun's contributions regarding alternative economic systems.

        I too have found many contributions inspiring, and the opportunity to link up with like-minded change seekers an enriching experience.
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          Dec 4 2011: I agree wholeheartedly. Whoever designated what the trans-national capitalists are doing "globalization" should win an award for misleading branding. It is an awesome job of a reverse euphemism.

          Global Exploitation is accurate... but hard to sell.


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