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The problem for capitalism, however, is that knowledge, unlike physical goods and services, is abundant and can be reproduced for free. As the knowledge content of physical goods rises, this price-effacing effect spills over into the production of physical goods as well. In any event, he makes the audacious claim that Marx and Engels were wrong about the proletariat, to which he ascribes an inherent conservatism.

On the basis of these seemingly radical premises, Mason draws surprisingly prosaic prescriptions.

Paul Mason - Postcapitalism

The path to post-capitalism will be constituted by deep, non-market action on climate change, the socialisation of the finance system, the delivery of a high level of wealth and prosperity to the majority of people, and harnessing technology towards profound automation and the reduction of work to its physical minimum.

In the unfolding of these processes, Mason believes the state will have a critical role to play.

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There is much to like about the account Mason has developed. He knits a diverse range of economic, political and social phenomenon into a cohesive and lucid post-capitalist vision, all premised on a fundamentally sound understanding of capitalism as an inherently contradictory system. To this general vision is allied a detailed and trenchant criticism of neoliberalism as a particularly rabid capitalist form. Indeed, he is at his best in his cutting accounts of the criminality of Lehmann Brothers traders, the defensive responses of tech giants, and hopeful exploration of the rebellion of the networked individual.

As would be expected from a journalist of his standing, the book is written in a lively and persuasive style. His eclectic theoretical framework is impressive in its breadth, but it is here that the chief shortcomings of the book are to be found. Two flaws in particular stand out.

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In reality, the two constitute a unity. Similarly, the extraction of wealth from workers in the form of debt is taken as a new form of exploitation when it remains, as Marx identified in Capital Volume III , a levy upon surplus value realised in the production process. Secondly, Mason assumes that the state can, in a neutral and technical fashion, realise the policies he prescribes.

Considering the effort he has gone to in theorising the economic and technical basis of capitalism, the lack of a proper theorisation of the state is sorely felt. For all that, however, Mason has produced a theoretically engaging yet accessible book that goes a long way towards making sense of the tempestuous times in which we live. In identifying the tension between abundant, free and potentially liberating information technologies and neoliberalism, Mason foregrounds an orthodox Marxist concern renovated for the current era; the state of productive forces is increasingly grating against the fetters of capitalist production relations.

Given how easy it can be to get discouraged as a leftist in the neoliberal era, this contention, together with his account of the rebellious character of the networked individual, is a much appreciated dose of hope for a post-capitalist future. References Lebowitz M Beyond Capital. Allen Lane.

Book review: Postcapitalism, by Paul Mason – The Earthbound Report

What is unique about information is that it is — at least hypothetically — abundant. This, Mason argues, has significant consequences for accepted economic method. Scarcity in this instance is enforced only by intellectual property law and the string of Digital Rights Management DRM protection coded into every song purchased from the store.

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The inordinate profits made for the Apple corporation by its iTunes store are therefore the result of artificially enforced scarcity. Tech companies become gatekeepers to data which might otherwise be distributed arbitrarily. In an economy dependent upon information, Mason continues, the fundamental categories of classical economics — those of land, labour and capital — collapse. Value can be created independently not only of raw material, but also of the labour hitherto required to transform it into a saleable commodity. By exploiting the networks made available by the internet and telecommunications more generally, humans can now engage in constructive, apparently social labour across distant geographies, and they can do so as an appendage to their workplace activities.


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Mason cites the enthusiast who edits a Wikipedia entry in their spare time and the coders who contribute to the endless revisions of the Open Source operating system, Linux. Throughout Postcapitalism, Mason goes to lengths to show how these new modes of production and the liberation of hitherto protected information will contribute to the gradual adoption of a new economic structure, one beyond capitalism.

Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future by Paul Mason review – engagingly written, but confused

But this transition is not so much argued for as it is assumed. The possibility of capitalism adapting in order to accommodate its new economic premises is briefly considered but dismissed quickly, on account of the threat of climate change, an ageing population in the Global North and a global debt crisis which makes its continued existence — to Mason — inconceivable. Capitalism is indeed resilient, but it cannot survive these truly existential threats.


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What it is that prevents the resurgence of an information-based capitalism, or indeed the embryonic growth of an even more brutal form of governance, is unclear. Mason seems complacent in his belief that postcapitalism of the sort he envisions will win out. Furthermore, we have serious reason to question whether an information economy represents a severe aberration in the fabric of neoliberal capitalism. From Paul Mason, the award-winning Channel 4 presenter, Postcapitalism is a guide to our era of seismic economic change, and how we can build a more equal society.

Over the past two centuries or so, capitalism has undergone continual change - economic cycles that lurch from boom to bust - and has always emerged transformed and strengthened. Surveying this turbulent history, Paul Mason wonders whether today we are on the brink of a change so big, so profound, that this time capitalism itself, the immensely complex system by which entire societies function, has reached its limits and is changing into something wholly new. At the heart of this change is information technology: a revolution that, as Mason shows, has the potential to reshape utterly our familiar notions of work, production and value; and to destroy an economy based on markets and private ownership - in fact, he contends, it is already doing so.