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Postcapitalism: a guide to our future (2015)
by Paul Mason
No current Talk conversations about this book.
I was genuinely surprised by this book, which is the highest praise I have. I think the blurb by Gillian Tett is on the money (!?) when she recommends it to those who are both in favour of and who oppose capitalism as it currently exists.
There is an entire genre of books about the evils of neoliberalism (or whatever you're having yourself). Many are exhaustive - and exhausting - exercises in misery train-spotting. The next, superior group diagnose the causes of said macroeconomic and social misery. The very smallest group, and the best kind of books in this genre, are a response to the criticisms which can be levelled at the preceding groups, namely "so what" and "so, what next".
Mason diagnoses how we got to where we are, and because he has a plausible theory of where we were and where we might be now, he has some workable (if, admittedly utopian) or at least interesting proposals for where we might go next. I don't agree with everything he says, but he has made a significant effort to avoid the usual clichés, and even if you have read and know it all, he consistently leavens it with frequent nuggets of insight.
There is plenty I disagree with, and the material on Marx and the labour theory of value could conceivably have been either shortened somewhat, or made a bit more compelling. If this had been the case, though, there might have been a sense that this book lacked depth, but this is not the case. Recommended.
This is the thing that keeps me up at night. All these topics interest me greatly. I happen to violently disagree with the author about the solution or even interpretation of some of the facts but it's still a stimulating read and I always enjoy books by positive people. That's a bit of characteristic of hardcore communists (I mean he does work at the BBC) - they're all convinced of the inevitability of their victory.
Also for fuck's sake, stop repeating this bullshit: you can earn money selling GPLed software, there is nothing in the license about not charging money. So many non-technical authors repeat this lie, Stallman is pre-emptively spinning before being buried. Open source is not communism (despite what Ballmer says)! Get your own social movement.
I absolve you of this sin because you made me laugh with cyber-stalinism.
Highly engaging and entertaining. A curious read for anyone that will be around in some form, frozen or not, past 2050. In the first part of the book Mason provides an entertaining, if not deeply labor biased, summary of economic thought from Adam Smith and Karl Marx to Kondratieff. Here Mason sets up his basic argument that Neoliberal Capitalism is a gamed system whose primary tools: fiat money and financialization will become less effective as we move toward an information based system of Capitalism where increasingly the goods that we buy and sell are not influenced by the traditional rules of scarcity that drive supply and demand and 'rational' markets. In short with IT, Robotics, AGI, Nanotech, 3D printing, Holograms, Crypto Currencies and VR much of what our economy will produce in the near future we will be able to create, copy and distribute for free and Mason appears optimistic that there is nothing that governments or corporations can do to prevent it. And since InfoTech will automate most of our work our rapidly expanding population of workers will not have sufficient means to acquire capital. In this scenario zero cost production and distribution seems almost required.
The scope of this book is large and I plan to reread it in a few months once some more substantive critiques come out. In the interim I'll just highlight some other points I found interesting:
1. Mason compares the upcoming shift that Capitalism will undergo as similar to what occurred from Feudalism to Merchant Capitalism. He uses the plays of Shakespeare to make visible some of the social changes that occurred during the playwrights' life. In an interview on the Guardian Mason suggested that people watch Wolf Hall (I've only read it) to get an understanding of what this transition will be like. I'll just remind you that even the crafty Cromwell could not navigate those times with his head still on.
2. Environmental and population demographic pressures are covered but too briefly. He describes regional haves and have nots where migration into all richer countries will have to be quelled. These sections are, in my view mostly incontrovertible at this point, but it's hard to deny that by 2050, ceteris paribus, most schemes to keep the current world economies financially healthy seem far too short sighted. One of the simpler examples, if I recall correctly, is that according to Mason upwards of 60% of the actual value of most of the world’s energy companies are currently locked in reserves of carbon which if actually utilized could effectively destroy the planet. However, if these energy reserves are not pursued or are otherwise obstructed the value of these companies is basically hollowed out along with many of the world’s economies that are tied to this speculative wealth in some manner.
3. Marx's 'Fragment on Machines', not translated into English until 1973, is covered more extensively than in other recent books that concern themselves with automation and labor: 'Rise of the Robots', 'Machines of Loving Grace' etc. In this fragment Marx anticipated something like the Info Capitalism that Mason suggests, where abstract knowledge will become the primary force of production. There is a lot more to mine here.
4. Mason's solution, Project Zero, which includes a closed zero-carbon-energy system where the production of machines, products and services whose marginal costs trend toward zero and which drive labor time to zero will all be managed by extremely sophisticated computer networks and models. Of course this will happen in degrees. I am not in the current camp that worries about malevolent AI as much as I worry about all of our critical infrastructure relying on models that can evolve beyond our cognitive comprehension and control. It will be hard to secure such systems from each other-those wily, poor 'have nots' above for example. Mason anticipates this by saying that any changes to the economy will be simulated millions of times before they are actually implemented in situ, and pervasively deployed software agents will monitor the entire network in real time at all times. For people not born into this world it will probably be alien and terrifying or worse stultifying beyond belief.
5. Property is not sufficiently covered but as Mason argues that the 1% will basically be eliminated, for their own benefit-they are miserable anyway, I suspect that all of their holdings will be communized in some manner. A UBI is proposed, at least initially. Again the primary argument here is that the marginal costs of products and services will naturally trend toward zero and so the UBI could as well.
A deep, difficult to read book by an author who values an executed Russian economists long cycle theory about the life cycle of capitalism. It makes for interesting reading at points but the jumps between certain parameters are hard to fathom and also don’t seem to be realistic. I think that this is postmodern idealism and a lot of what he says although it sounds great is practically too much of a stone to roll up the hill. I’d avoid this in the future.
References to this work on external resources.
Wikipedia in English (3)
We know that our world is undergoing seismic change--but how can we emerge from the crisis a fairer, more equal society? Over the past two centuries or so, capitalism has undergone profound changes--economic cycles that veer from boom to bust--from which it has always emerged transformed and strengthened. Surveying this turbulent history, Paul Mason'sPostcapitalism argues that we are on the brink of a change so big and so profound that this time capitalism itself, the immensely complex system within which entire societies function, will mutate into something wholly new. At the heart of this change is information technology, a revolution that is driven by capitalism but, with its tendency to push the value of much of what we make toward zero, has the potential to destroy an economy based on markets, wages, and private ownership. Almost unnoticed, in the niches and hollows of the market system, swaths of economic life are beginning to move to a different rhythm. Vast numbers of people are changing how they behave and live, in ways contrary to the current system of state-backed corporate capitalism. And as the terrain changes, new paths open. In this bold and prophetic book, Mason shows how, from the ashes of the crisis, we have the chance to create a more socially just and sustainable economy. Although the dangers ahead are profound, he argues that there is cause for hope. This is the first time in human history in which, equipped with an understanding of what is happening around us, we can predict and shape the future.
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)303.4 — Social sciences Social Sciences Social Processes Social change
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