Problems such as an ageing population, environmental damage and inequality can be overcome in a society of abundance and exponentially rising productivity and innovative activity, according to Mason. The abundance of information can become what Marx, in a fragment contained in his Grundrisse, called the ‘general intellect’ or social knowledge. As the most important factor of production, as opposed to the land, labour and capital traditionally emphasised by economics, this can be seen in the increasing importance of the internet in modern society. Through the latter, there are fewer barriers to the accumulation of knowledge by networked individuals in society. The ‘internet of things’, in which technology makes goods, services and capital increasingly intelligent, will also be revolutionary.
Humans using information intelligently as a factor of production is not new. Every technology requires particular knowledge and intelligence to use it in a way that generates profitable output. Information misused will be less productive. The difference today is that information is more abundant than ever, as Mason argues, so he is at least half right. Perhaps our awareness of this phenomenon is also becoming more widely appreciated.
The Political Economy of Development
I said I would post something on Paul Mason’s thought-provoking book, Postcapitalism – a guide to our future, which has just come out in paperback. It makes a good read, and contains a wealth of ideas from economics, political economy, and futurism, all mixed together in the author’s aim to inspire a progressive transition beyond capitalism, but not to socialism, which he admits has been a huge failure for the left. Instead, he calls his utopian vision ‘postcapitalism’.
Mason starts by describing the current political economic paradigm, neo-liberalism, as having reached its limits with the crisis of 2008 and the subsequent tepid, or in many cases absent, recovery. There has been sluggish output and productivity growth, alongside wage rises for those at the very top of the income distribution but barely any change for the middle and bottom. In fact, these trends were only temporarily overcome by the excessive expansion of credit prior to…
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