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Post-Capitalist, Pre-Whatever?

I’m going to repeat this one from a year ago with no changes because I think some things are going the way Mason predicted – manufactured goods are more commoditized than ever.

Are you ready for a Post Capitalist world? Paul Mason, an economist and columnist for the Guardian, has outlined what that might mean in his book Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future. The premise of this provocative subject is simply that information technology has a tendency to commoditize everything in our lives and ultimately push the value to zero, rendering concepts of money and markets as we understand them today utterly useless.

No one actually lives in a post-anything world, so the question becomes less about capitalism and more about what might come afterward. Financial writers, far from dismissal of the potential downfall of their trade, are actually quite excited by the concept of a new world where the old rules do not apply. The traditional left, steeped in a quasi-Marxist dialectic, are far more unsure.

That’s what makes this concept exciting.

One Big Marketplace

One Big Marketplace

Longtime readers know that Barataria has always referred to native social, political, and economic arrangement of the US as “Marketist”, which is to say that money itself does not make the rules as much as the ideal of a free market with equal access open to everyone. The guiding principle has always been an Economy of People, which is to say that this odd thing called “money” doesn’t define our organization as much as anyone might expect.

Everything in this world is defined by a certain level of scarcity, which is to say that there is not enough of whatever is valued to go around to everyone. Money is simply a tool for organizing and keeping score in this arrangement, at least to those who have reached the Middle Class and not constrained by day to day survival.

Not everyone can do this.

Not everyone can do this.

Mason argues well that as we move to a more software based world of easily duplicated and shared information the concepts of scarcity simply do not rule us. Corporations that manufacture or distribute physical goods are themselves transformed not by throwing more money into their problems but by better information and new ways of organizing themselves.

As our lives are more and more defined by abundance the concept of “capital” itself has to be redefined.

Consider, for example, the zero and even negative interest rates available today. You need capital to get something going? The time value has slipped ever since the 1980s with more and more floating around every day. You can fund many projects with a kickstarter grant if you want, or beg for donations for your work with PayPal (Hint! Hint!)

Effective yield of the 10 year Treasury Bill over time, a benchmark for real interest rates.  It keeps dropping.

Effective yield of the 10 year Treasury Bill over time, a benchmark for real interest rates. It keeps dropping.

Even physical goods themselves are defined less by what is in them and more by their utility, the catalog of features built in. New technologies make new things cost less and less all the time. There is little to no time value to money.

An economy based on software is an economy with less need for capital and more need for brains.

An economy based on software is an economy with less need for capital and more need for brains.

Where the right has lost its raison d’etre through the decline in value of supply-side thinking, the idea that a supply of capital is what creates jobs and real wealth, it is the left which is most adrift. Solidarity and sharing of resources no longer are necessary in a world defined by this abundance, and the role of government necessarily has to shift dramatically. “Progressives” of today are the ones called on to change the most, away from reactionary opposition to increasingly socially defined conservatism towards an active definition of this new world. It takes a lot of imagination, which is to say it takes a lot of leadership.

No one lives in a post-anything world. We are living in a world which is pre-something which we simply don’t have the words to define yet. Talking it through so we can digest what is before us is nearly impossible – and yet essential.

The fuure has to have room for everyone, 'cuz we're all going there.

The fuure has to have room for everyone, ‘cuz we’re all going there.

Can we really call the world we live in Post-Capitalist? To the extent that more and more people are living in a world of abundance, the answer is yes. This is certainly not true for everyone and the fruits of this world are still far from being shared in a reasonable or equitable way. There is a lot of work to be done before we can claim there is a genuine political or social system which makes any sense to the people that live within it.

What matters is that we are developing the language necessary to digest the changes around us and make them work for us all. Mason’s work is a great start, but it is only a start.

Before we can genuinely live in a world of abundance nearly everything will have to change. That’s not going to happen immediately, but the sooner it starts the sooner we will be able to define the world we’re all going to be living in together.

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