Policy Research in Macroeconomics

Is capitalism “mutating” into an infotech utopia?

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Graham Lacdao, St Paul’s Cathedral

Graham Lacdao, St Paul’s Cathedral

I was privileged to be invited by the St. Paul’s Institute to discuss (on the 3rd November, 2015) the thesis in Paul Mason’s recent book PostCapitalism: A Guide to Our Future with a keynote speech from the author.

Mason’s book is both a riveting and intellectually exhilarating read. It challenged me at a range of levels, and has added considerably to my list of must-read books. However, I have strong disagreements with Mason, and these are outlined in my review, published here as a PRIME e-publication.

I disagree primarily with his assumption that capitalism is subject to Kondratieff waves or “mutations”. The implication is that these waves are “natural” and unavoidable – beyond human agency. I strongly disagree. We have subordinated capitalism to the interests of society before – during the Golden Age of Economics from 1945 – 1971 – and can do so again.

Second, Mason is preoccupied by profits. I consider profits to be an out-of-date account of the rise in capitalist wealth, which is now accumulated as capital gains by the new, expanded and more ruthless rentier capitalism.

Third, Mason is optimistic about technology’s ability to eliminate pricing, to free up knowledge and to empower society to act collaboratively and with a “general intellect”. While I share some of that optimism, I see new technology as intensifying exploitation – by barring access to society’s collective public goods, and by transferring all risk on to today’s increasingly insecure working class – the precariat. Above all Mason’s optimism about technology’s role in our future means that he never fully grasps the nettle of ecological limits.

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3 Responses

  1. Thank you for this JN Patterson…I will indeed order Michael Hudson’s latest book…he is a prolific writer, and if it at all like his others this latest book will be a big read…No promises, but will try to review.

  2. This is a fascinating review. I’m afraid Paul Mason became a lost cause for me when he used the expression "analogue drabness" to define the pre-digital age: it seems to me that the digital age overall is turning quality into quantity across the board (William Burroughs’s famous phrase puts it best), in a kind of unholy alliance with financialisation.
    Ann Pettifor also mentions Michael Hudson. His latest book Killing the Host is far more interesting than Paul Mason’s. It would be wonderful to read a review of that by Ms Pettifor, because it seems to echo so many of her views.

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