Is capitalism dissolving around us?

19 Jul

Paul Mason in The Guardian:

Capitalism, it turns out, will not be abolished by forced-march techniques. It will be abolished by creating something more dynamic that exists, at first, almost unseen within the old system, but which will break through, reshaping the economy around new values and behaviours. I call this postcapitalism.

As with the end of feudalism 500 years ago, capitalism’s replacement by postcapitalism will be accelerated by external shocks and shaped by the emergence of a new kind of human being. And it has started.

Postcapitalism is possible because of three major changes information technology has brought about in the past 25 years. First, it has reduced the need for work, blurred the edges between work and free time and loosened the relationship between work and wages. The coming wave of automation, currently stalled because our social infrastructure cannot bear the consequences, will hugely diminish the amount of work needed – not just to subsist but to provide a decent life for all.

Second, information is corroding the market’s ability to form prices correctly. That is because markets are based on scarcity while information is abundant. The system’s defence mechanism is to form monopolies – the giant tech companies – on a scale not seen in the past 200 years, yet they cannot last. By building business models and share valuations based on the capture and privatisation of all socially produced information, such firms are constructing a fragile corporate edifice at odds with the most basic need of humanity, which is to use ideas freely.

Third, we’re seeing the spontaneous rise of collaborative production: goods, services and organisations are appearing that no longer respond to the dictates of the market and the managerial hierarchy. The biggest information product in the world – Wikipedia – is made by volunteers for free, abolishing the encyclopedia business and depriving the advertising industry of an estimated $3bn a year in revenue.

Almost unnoticed, in the niches and hollows of the market system, whole swaths of economic life are beginning to move to a different rhythm. Parallel currencies, time banks, cooperatives and self-managed spaces have proliferated, barely noticed by the economics profession, and often as a direct result of the shattering of the old structures in the post-2008 crisis.

Beyond the left:

Collaborative production, using network technology to produce goods and services that only work when they are free, or shared, defines the route beyond the market system. It will need the state to create the framework – just as it created the framework for factory labour, sound currencies and free trade in the early 19th century. The postcapitalist sector is likely to coexist with the market sector for decades, but major change is happening.

Networks restore “granularity” to the postcapitalist project. That is, they can be the basis of a non-market system that replicates itself, which does not need to be created afresh every morning on the computer screen of a commissar.

The transition will involve the state, the market and collaborative production beyond the market. But to make it happen, the entire project of the left, from protest groups to the mainstream social democratic and liberal parties, will have to be reconfigured. In fact, once people understand the logic of the postcapitalist transition, such ideas will no longer be the property of the left – but of a much wider movement, for which we will need new labels.

Who can make this happen? In the old left project it was the industrial working class. More than 200 years ago, the radical journalist John Thelwall warned the men who built the English factories that they had created a new and dangerous form of democracy: “Every large workshop and manufactory is a sort of political society, which no act of parliament can silence, and no magistrate disperse.”

Today the whole of society is a factory. We all participate in the creation and recreation of the brands, norms and institutions that surround us.

Brands and norms are otherwise called culture. Hmmmm…

By creating millions of networked people, financially exploited but with the whole of human intelligence one thumb-swipe away, info-capitalism has created a new agent of change in history: the educated and connected human being.

Is this the face of the coming singularity? Toward a society of abundance:

The modern day external shocks are clear: energy depletion, climate change, ageing populations and migration. They are altering the dynamics of capitalism and making it unworkable in the long term. They have not yet had the same impact as the Black Death – but as we saw in New Orleans in 2005, it does not take the bubonic plague to destroy social order and functional infrastructure in a financially complex and impoverished society.

Once you understand the transition in this way, the need is not for a supercomputed Five Year Plan – but a project, the aim of which should be to expand those technologies, business models and behaviours that dissolve market forces, socialise knowledge, eradicate the need for work and push the economy towards abundance. I call it Project Zero – because its aims are a zero-carbon-energy system; the production of machines, products and services with zero marginal costs; and the reduction of necessary work time as close as possible to zero.

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2 Responses to “Is capitalism dissolving around us?”

  1. Charles Keil July 19, 2015 at 1:16 pm #

    Good news! And Paul Mason seems generally “true” to the facts. Capitalism and industrial snivelization are dissolving around us; within the present System it is impossible to pump some air into Greece’s tires, much less fill up the tank and restart the engine. More debt, more austerity, higher taxes, lower pensions, has failed twice and will fail a third time. Anything short of “jubilee” will just prolong the anxiety, suffering, and stagnation. Greening and permaculturing all of Greece is the only answer.
    The big problem for failing states and the rapidly shrinking speciation, shrinking wilderness, shrinking ecosystems, shrinking human motivation, etc. is that the collapse is not happening swiftly enough to wake people up. Please get a copy of Deep Green Resistance (2011) by A. MCBAY, L. KEITH AND D. JENSEN. It’s a thriller-diller. One good place to start is with Ch. 5, “Other Plans” where Keith explains why Sweden, for example, is unsustainable, rigid not “resilient”, way over the carrying capacity cliff with the rest of us. Even with all Sweden’s good and even “best” practices, the Sami will continue to suffer and perhaps disappear like so many other egalitarian societies.
    I just noticed that my computer puts red dots under “snivelization” (used by H. Melville in 1849, and by Mark Twain some decades later) and “permaculturing”, as if to say that these KEY concepts are not commonly understood, not in the dictionary. To me, the red dots say we humans are not just stuck in snivelization but truely and fatally MIRED in it.
    I’m going out to plant some more Bonus Henricus, a perennial greens-in-early-spring vegetable of the good ol days. It has roots like a tree that keep it alive thru the worst winters.

  2. Charlie Keil July 19, 2015 at 1:17 pm #

    Ooops,forgot to share with facebook.

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