Condensed: Paul Mason’s ‘Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future’
Paul Mason has a book out called Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future, and below is a video of a recent public debate at St. Paul’s Cathedral, featuring Mason talking about his book with Ann Pettifor and Phillip Blond.
Here are condensed highlights (imho) of the discussion, with my response below.
Mason’s point is that capitalism always adapts. It’s difficult to get rid of it. However, it seems to be losing its ability to adapt because of the rise of IT. More later.
If there’s a crisis, banks and corporations, and their puppet governments, produce free money, in the form of credit or quantitative easing (£12 trillion in the last round). But since the advent of neoliberalism, workers’ ability to claim their share of the pie has been reduced. In the US, median incomes have stagnated since the 1970s, and have fallen sharply since 2008.
So if credit keeps rising, but ordinary people’s ability to repay keeps falling, this makes crashes inevitable, and they’re going to keep getting worse.
IT makes information much cheaper – the price tends towards zero in fact. Think Wikipedia, open source, YouTube for music and lots of other free stuff, including plain old theft. At the same time, giant tech corporations try to protect prices via copyright, but they’re finding it more and more difficult.
Mason embraces this new, free economy. He would like to see a system of less work / more life, possibly with a basic income – so that we can do more of the free / collaborative / open source stuff that will maintain our standard of living without having to work so much, or needing so much money. Plus it will be more sustainable.
He suggests that we focus on building a networked, horizontal, free, collaborative economy.
Wherever this has been tried before, it has been crushed by whoever was in power – church, monarchy, empire or state – think Diggers, Levellers, Ujamaa, peasant revolts, Paris Commune, anarchists in the Spanish Civil War etc. (my examples). But now we have the internet.
Ann Pettifor is on the same side as Mason, but doesn’t think his utopia is coming. She’d like to see the state implementing Keynesian policies to counter neoliberalism. The state needs to control the financial sector. She opposes the ‘rentier’ economy (where money makes more money than work), but sees that it is taking over from the productive economy.
Phillip Blond argued that as some things tend towards the free, other things are becoming super-expensive, like classic cars, fine wines and art – because they bring status, and people want status. He suggests that we need social solidarity (but without nationalism). He would like to see a moral resistance to capitalism
Mason suggests that we focus on building a networked, horizontal, free, collaborative economy. I agree, and I would like to see much more focus on this. Pettifor’s idea about Keynesian policies has been tried before, and was eventually crushed by neoliberalism. Why should it work this time? The political system was corrupted and bought by the Empire, to add to their existing control of the media and the finance system. A horizontal, non-state network can’t be taken over unless violence is used (which the Empire will find very difficult to get past public opinion without reverting to overt fascism), or if it can be bought out if it stumbles (think Co-op Bank). But capital can’t make inroads into a healthy co-operative economy.
Also, the horse has already bolted when it comes to Pettifor’s ideas of the state controlling the financial sector. International investors are in control now, and woe betide any national government that confronts them. I don’t think that approach can work any more. Money makes much more money than work – interest on loans, rent for land and property, share dividends, currency speculation etc. – and there’s nothing that governments can do to stop it or even begin to curb its power.
When it comes to Blond’s ‘status’ argument, I’d say that people (especially younger people) are getting their status from different things nowadays, like knowledge, experience, ability, contacts, integrity, achievements, followers, likes and shares. My circle is not particularly unusual (not all of it anyway), but anyone trying to impress them with their art collection, fine wines or classic cars would be considered a vulgar idiot.
It is true though, that some very important things are also becoming more expensive – like land and housing. We need to do something about that, if we don’t want all the essentials of life to be the preserve of the corporate sector alone. But information is a good place to start. Mason’s idea is based on a network rather than a hierarchy – but both Keynesianism and Marxism result in hierarchies. I’m with Mason – let’s abandon state-centred solutions and network. Let’s co-operativise and de-corporatise housing, food, energy, employment, finance, so that wealth and power can begin to be distributed more equally. It can be done. And anyway, it can’t hurt. Maybe it won’t have the potential for revolutionary change, but the more economic sectors we can take back from the corporate sector the better.
Blond advocates the spreading of ownership of the means of production throughout society. He talked about ‘mass production’ but I think what he actually meant was the opposite of mass production – ‘production by the masses’. He actually talked about expanding ownership ‘at the bottom’ – but I don’t see it as ‘at the bottom’. I envisage only one level – a flat, networked system.
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1Steve Gwynne November 12th, 2015
A question that has intrigued me for a long while now is whether hierarchies are more or less ecologically effective and effecient. Our historical evidence seems to show that hierarchies are naturally forming as opposed to heterarchies or networks whether formal or informal. Is this an underlying ecological phenomenon at work with some innate knowledge that greater effeciences and greater effectiveness are better achieved through hierarchical forms of organisation. I do not know the answer to these questions but would sure be interesting to explore.
2Dave Darby November 12th, 2015
Just reading Murray Bookchin’s ‘The Ecology of Freedom’. Looked at research into pre-agricultural societies – no hierarchy apparently. All huts the same size, all males hunted, all females gathered. Everyone worked, no-one worked for anyone else. Hierarchies were formed by power grabs when the first ‘civilisations’ began to form. Human society is never ‘naturally-forming’, it’s what we make it. There was a time when slavery or the subservience of women was considered natural. If we want a collaborative, non-hierarchical society, the people who want that will have to work for it, and possibly fight for it. I’m in.