Especially after the financial crisis of 2008 – and the sluggish recovery which has followed – criticisms of global capitalism have become ubiquitous. And in itself Paul Mason’s “PostCapitalism: A Guide to our Future” joins this chorus of criticisms, albeit with keener references to Prussian-born revolutionary socialist Karl Marx. “The current crisis not only spells the end of the neoliberal model [a doctrine of uncontrolled markets], it is a symptom of the longer-term mismatch between market systems and an economy based on information”, and in the first of three parts of the book Mason’s thesis is that as “a complex, adaptive system”, capitalism has reached the limits of its capacity to adapt. In addition to the neoliberal perils of inequalities, imbalances, and excessive financialisation, the present system is also not compatible with the advent of information technology.
With the economic jargon and discourse this first part may be heavy-going, though a useful series of charts illustrate the disorder of an economic system, perhaps on the brink of a change. Throughout the second part of “PostCapitalism”, the disruptive potential of a technological revolution is considered, a labour-theory – in contrast with mainstream economics, premised upon the assumption of scarcity – is mooted, and the observation that work “is losing its centrality both to exploitation and resistance” is made. Neoliberalism and the flaws within the system is preventing the exploitation of new technologies. He summarised: “Today, the main contradiction in modern capitalism is between the possibility of free, abundant socially produced goods, and a system of monopolies, banks, and governments struggling to maintain control over power and information … Everything is pervaded by a fight between network and hierarchy”.
And thus far, the case made against capitalism seems clear. Few, moreover, would disagree with the need for change.
What is less convincing – in the final part of the book – is Mason’s vision of postcapitalism. To be fair, he does go beyond the superficial needs of “willpower, confidence, and design”, by detailing four top-level aims (reducing carbon emissions, stabilising the finance system through socialisation, deliver higher standards of living, and gearing technology towards the reduction of necessary work, so that “economic management becomes primarily an issue of energy and resources, not capital and labour”), and finally listing a few key proposals (such as collaborative work and a basic income). What I think he overlooks are the incentives driving the resistance of institutions and stakeholders in the status quo, leading them to resist changes, as well as the actual implementation (and even the trade-offs), in the hypothetical movement to postcapitalism