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That day everything becomes free

Post Capitalism
Forfatter: Paul Mason
Forlag: Peoples Press, 2016
In post-capitalism, Paul Mason argues that information technology has the potential to transcend capitalism and create forms of production independent of the traditional market. 


This is not the first time we hear that capitalism is facing its end. Egyptian economist Samir Amin claims in The Implosion of Capitalism (2014) that globalization causes capitalism to dissolve from within the global market dumping of prices. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri claimed in Empire (2000) that the new forms of cooperation based on networks, knowledge and effects: so-called intangible work, will create an international revolutionary potential as well as give rise to new ways of producing value which in turn would clarify the parasite-like status of capital and eventually make it redundant. But Hardt and Negri's nomadic deleuzianism quickly lost momentum. The network capacity is now partly occupied by major internet giants whose monopolization is looming on this work culture, and partly has spawned a new labor proletariat of connected knowledge workers with loose, fragile ad-hoc (prekariat) jobs who have come to stay, but who may not have yet redeemed its full potential. Did Paul Mason have some of the answer and the solution?

Copy a house. I Post Capitalism argues British journalist, author, activist and Labor Party adviser Paul Mason that the days of capitalism are numbered. Since the 1700th century, capitalism has regenerated itself through four technology-driven cycles ("chondreative waves") regardless of crises. But in the current fifth cycle, capitalism stands still, surviving only on a deregulated financial speculation and empty paper money that puts borrowed money into circulation with a growing inequality as a result. The reason is that the real source of value production – information technology – can no longer be controlled by capitalism. And when Mason sees the days of capitalism as spoken, it is because the current cycle based on information technology, unlike all previous technologies, «tends to dissolve markets, destroy ownership and break down the relationship between labor and wages». Mason's thesis is akin to the sharing economy mindset where value is not captured by division of labor and property ownership, but via "access rather than ownership" – but the breakthrough itself, according to Mason, comes with the copyability of the product. Any tangible product will soon be able to be generated through information technology.

Music industry. Let's take the music industry as an example. The production of goods and the pricing of a particular CD would a few years ago be conditioned by demand + cost of production. Today, the company behind itunes just presses a button that copies the item attached to a server at no great cost. The marginal cost is the cost of putting additional units of the product into production and it only gets smaller with the increasing digitization. Soon, the decentralization of 3D printing production will enable the copying of houses, cars, aircraft. The watchwords for 3D production are open source, decentralization, spontaneous forms of production and non-hierarchical forms of cooperation. 3D products can be downloaded as files and shared online in digital files. The upcoming 3D machines will be programmed to change their own design and anyone can bid. Not the scarcity of the commodity, but the apparent interest in the value of life (Wikipedia for example) becomes crucial. Copyability brings marginal costs close to zero and capitalism's profits go up in smoke. More importantly, these forms of production cannot be adapted to an existing market, nor do they create new jobs. In this late cycle, more jobs disappear than are created. The preliminary bumps in the road include monopoly formation, copyright and business models striving for standardization.

Mason sees a more committed social human being taking shape: the knowledgeable and connecting human being with all the knowledge of the world within acute reach.

The knowledge society. With the new and comprehensive phase of digitalisation, according to Mason, we are facing the landmark problem: What happens when commodity production no longer involves the necessary work and causes the value of commodities to move towards zero? According to Mason, Marx foresaw this development in his small "Fragment of the Machines" (1858) and the doctrine of "the general intellect." The idea is that the development of technology in the factory dissolves the worker's direct relationship to work and places the source of production and value creation in the social organization. A way of thinking that later forms a significant source of inspiration for the working autonomist Antonio Negri's development of a new social policy subject (the multitude), the philosopher and researcher Paolo Virno's new thinking on social innovation, the Italian sociologist and media thinker Maurizio Lazaratto's new thinking on an urban intangible working community and Moulier Boutang's theory the extra-economic self-learning processes (externalities) and their enormous value. With information technology, the whole of society becomes a social factory. Marx did not solve the problem, but saw it in germ form: that the collaboration between knowledge and technology, in a sense, makes our whole life a production-creating factor. Chat, spontaneous ideas, unexpected collaboration, constant learning, sharing with the man on the street, hiking and playing «outside of working life», bring the value-creating closer to life in its totality.

Completion of payroll work. Jeremy Rifkin, who in 2014 published the book The Zero Marginal Cost Society, has pointed out how automation has eliminated nearly four million jobs in America in the period between 1997 and 2005, and the citizen wage movement in Switzerland has researched that the alpine country with 8 million inhabitants will lose 200 jobs over the next five years. But more is needed to get the politicians out of their seats. The sharing economy is also in its infancy. Right now, it's more like a precariat of desperate bottle collectors driving taxis (Uber) without basic rights, or students and project workers renting out their apartment (Airbnb) just to be able to pay their fixed expenses or score a little extra. But while Rifkin rejoices over the possible end of wage labor and puts his trust in the empathetically-sharing human being, Mason sees a new possibility with post-capitalism on the other side of capitalism: The less dependent on wage labor (less dependent on commercial goods for consumption), the more we are freed from the traditional market / commodity society. According to Mason, we are getting closer to the really interesting question that the English economist John Maynard Keynes predicted almost 000 years ago: that man will soon be able to spend more energy on non-economic activities and purposes. In an economy of abundance, sooner or later what he referred to as "technological unemployment" will arise, which will ultimately solve man's economic problems. He envisioned a future in which machines would provide the necessary goods and services and, for the first time, free man from manual labor, debt, and the state of wage slavery. First, we must have just abolished monopoly formation, introduced civic pay, and created a sustainable lifestyle on all fronts of society. It's going to be a tough fight and it's going to hurt, Mason predicts – especially because those who have lived off minimizing the organizing power of workers and unions (a cornerstone of neoliberalism since Thatcher's days) will do anything to shatter a self-organizing production order. But according to Mason, anyone who sees reality within a few years will understand that something drastic must be done. The leaders of Facebook and Google are already sitting and thinking about how to make money in 100 years.

The new man. Mason's book is better than the many kiosk baskets in evangelical sharing economy that emerge in the economic airport literature. His optimism is rooted in a belief in a special marriage between information technology and activist life forms with gift-economy-like efforts, with Wikipedia and Linux as great examples. He is not seduced by technology, but sees a more committed social human being taking shape: the knowledgeable and connecting human being with all kinds of knowledge within acute reach. But several critical questions arise: How to avoid this producing network laboratory not ending up as a new neoliberal digital hybrid that welcomes any combination? How should this opportunistic network person, constantly under the gaze of the other, build independent experience and judgment? Are we going to live in a computer-designed world with an ever-increasing distance to the sensuous, the bodily? Intelligent (smart) learning still says nothing about the consequences for critical thinking, for education, for the cooperation between body and spirit, for the development of new educational cultures that can filter quality and qualify the intellectual debate and knowledge exchange. Does not the implementation of Mason's information technology post-capitalism and its new forms of production require strong structural (state) legislative interventions (great battles await) which in turn risk dividing society in two and creating parallel societies?

Alexander Carnera
Alexander Carnera
Carnera is a freelance writer living in Copenhagen.

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