Postcapitalism

postcapitalism-book-cover

At significant moments for the economy in the last ten years, from the global banking crisis in 2008 to the recent near shutdown of Greece, anyone in Britain interested in current affairs would be sure to catch a Paul Mason TV report like Tarantino used to run to the cinema for a new Scorsese release in the seventies. Like those news despatches, Mason’s new book, Postcapitalism, is informative, enlightening and engaging.

As it says on the tin (in this case a lovely black hardback), the book looks to the future in a fast changing world, but not before exploring the past and explaining the present. As well as sharing his experiences in the field, Mason mixes micro and macro economics, an in-depth political and economic knowledge and hard evidence to make a convincing case why the current economic model is not only reaching the end of its life-cycle, but how the information technology network can be the basis that both connects globally while individually giving us autonomy in a sustainable society.

In a hard hitting first part Mason explains how neo-liberalism has failed  with terrorist groups creating disorder around the world, natural resources mismanaged, while wage cuts and deskilling are the norm in mature economies that have imposed ideological cuts that shrink the economy.

Mason stylishly notes early on the deliberate neo-liberal model is of shrinking the state with the exception of riot squads, secret police and unaccountable corporations. Meanwhile the old factors of production – land, labour and capital – have become secondary to information, which could empower us all in a new cycle if we use intelligence, are organized and have ethical motives.

At a time more relevant than ever, Mason spells out how neo-liberalism is a failing model based on supporting the profit system which relies on borrowing and exploitation, which is compounded because rather than re-investing profits to create growth, dividends are paid to the few who benefit from the extra value coerced out of employees by an unequal power relationship.

It is a relationship many readers will relate to, where we “follow the employer’s clock rather than the body clock.” Mason charts the creation of the first factory in 1771 and the spread of task driven, menial work into offices which stifles creativity that has now expanded to sweat-shops around the globe where humans are worked to the bone with high targets, timed toilet breaks and no rights.

Mason mentions some of the British films of the fifties that reflected the kitchen sink despair in an economic model that was by then the norm. Mason notes capitalism has so far adapted and survived; over two hundred years after that first factory was created popular culture and art still reflects the angst from The Clash’s Magnificent Seven to Arcade Fire’s Sprawl II (mountains beyond mountains), via much of American independent cinema. In some of the most engaging paragraphs of Postcapitalism Mason tells through both revisiting recent history and some of his own anecdotes, how people have rebelled through repression, be it through lifestyle changes from sex and music in the sixties, to today, where in the oppressed countries individuals showed personal defiance during the Arab Spring.

Throughout this time, from 1771 to the present, workers oraganized to fight hard for rights, from a starting base of being able to work in a safe environment. But where and when the far right prospered, notably in Germany and Spain in the thirties, an early act of the fascists was to smash the unions. It was a trait taken on by the neo-liberalists of the eighties, as Thatcher, Pinochet and Reagan developed an economic model that couldn’t co-exist with an organized working class; as Mason shows early in Postcapitalism banks now openly oppose paying a living wage and improving working conditions as an anathema to their monetarist model.

Mason notes Germany resisted this neo-liberal model until early this century but labour reforms in 2003 now means it too has communities gripped by inequality and poverty. And as we have seen with Greece, that ideologically is now driven to the extent there is no concern to the lives that are collateral damage so austerity can shape a community.

But these wooden ideas are doomed to fail. Mason paints a picture we are familiar with as light at the end of the tunnel; the future, in informal dress and white wires coming out of their ears are going to take the space of the old school tie and the bean-counters austere approach. The analogue map readers who are in throve to their shareholders, a long-hours low-wage culture and oppressive work environments will no longer stop people being educated, informed and connected.

Knowledge is power and the lie that austerity is anything other than ideological will no longer wash pervasively when people can learn the truth. And this will be a force against all types of oppression. Mason writes how networked individuals have performed punk rock on cathedrals in Russia, raised defiant cans of beer to the tyranny of Islam, had millions protest in Brazil and co-ordinated mass strikes in China.

Mason captures this perfectly:

“Neo-liberalism can offer them only a world of stagnant growth and state-level bankruptcy; austerity until death, but with an upgraded version of the iPhone every few years.”

It has recently been evidenced on the streets of Spain and at the voting booths of Greece, where the people had the right instincts while the Government failed to work out and deliver an exit plan. That is why for all Jeremy Corbyn’s failings it is no surprise it is him that needs overflow rooms and has people locked outside halls he is speaking in a Labour leadership election that was in desperate need for someone to articulate a message about growing rather than shrinking an economy.

Rather than the simplistic ideas that have failed as alternatives to capitalism in the past, Mason outlines how we can continue a global society without redundant market forces where production costs can be close to zero; information is easily transferrable and trying to put a value on intellectual property is pure guesswork. Open source software and voluntary collaborations (such as Wikipedia) have produced a peer-to-peer economics in which money is no longer the measure and there need not be man-made national boundaries.

Modern capitalism isn’t working. It isn’t equipped for the new rules while the book makes clear the crisis we are in. Forecasts show in 2050 the ratio of pensioners to working age will be 1:1 (from 1:3 in 1950), while in parallel 50% of private pensions are invested in Government debt and the explosion in population will be in impoverished counties.

Meanwhile neoliberalism mismanages energy to the point of destruction. The ice age is coming, the sun is zooming in; as well as exposing the fallacy of a 25 year-old economic doctorine solving the problem of a destabalizing 4.5 billion year old planet Mason rightly points out that climate change deniers are more than a joke: they have an agenda to keep the failing status quo.

The external shocks of demographic crisis and climate change, argues Mason, will be the telling factors that mean the information network is just part of evolving capitalism. Mason’s root cause analysis leads him to a failed economic model; on the principle of the wave patterns he sets out early in the book he predicts a new tidal pattern is coming that will wash capitalism up with its predecessor, feudalism.

The scale of Mason’s alternative, a Project Zero where money is effectively redundant, is enormous. But it is challenging and raises a number of smaller ideas that would be easy to implement if there was the willpower.

Midway through Postcapitalism Paul Mason has a chapter titled Beautiful Troublemakers. It is arguably what he is. Not just an economics editor, but a northern soul rebel who captivates and inspires. And this book does both.

MG

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