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Four Futures: Life After Capitalism

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  2,645 ratings  ·  330 reviews
An exhilarating exploration into the utopias and dystopias that could develop from present society

Peter Frase argues that increasing automation and a growing scarcity of resources, thanks to climate change, will bring it all tumbling down. In Four Futures, Frase imagines how this post-capitalist world might look, deploying the tools of both social science and speculative f
Paperback, 150 pages
Published October 4th 2016 by Verso (first published March 10th 2015)
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Jessica Rosa In this book Peter Frase examines four different models of economic systems through four different hypotetical futures. The author obviously disputes …moreIn this book Peter Frase examines four different models of economic systems through four different hypotetical futures. The author obviously disputes that capitalism is the best economic system, so this is a book best appreciated if you're open to that kind of discussion.(less)

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Just from looking at it, you can tell that ‘Four Futures’ will only describe each of its scenarios briefly. This a 150 page book, after all. Yet somehow the brevity disappointed me nonetheless. (It probably didn’t help that I read it in the throes of insomnia.) Not that I disagreed with what was said, nor that the choice of four options didn’t seem sensible, rather that the introduction (more than a fifth of the total page count) set up slightly unrealistic expectations. Specifically, it claimed ...more
Science fiction is to futurism what social theory is to conspiracy theory: an altogether richer, more honest, and more humble enterprise. Or to put it another way, it is always more interesting to read an account that derives the general from the particular (social theory) or the particular from the general (science fiction), rather than attempting to go from the general to the general (futurism) or the particular to the particular (conspiracism).

With that in mind, Frase uses science fiction and
Jan 06, 2018 rated it liked it
Peter Frase’s essay is an exercise in what is commonly known as 'scenario planning’. The author himself seems to be totally agnostic about this intellectual discipline that has a rich, decades-long history. But that doesn’t detract from his attempt to visualise a range of post-capitalist futures. The basic idea behind the methodology is straightforward: identify a limited number of critical uncertainties and investigate how they might interact to shape different, but plausible and coherent futur ...more
James (JD) Dittes
Aug 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
Is there a horror movie villain you can think of that has more lives than capitalism? Rumors of its demise stretch back to the era of the trust-busters and the Progressive Party. Every time a depression or war or rival ideology seems to have the system on its knees, its limbs burst to life and someone appears to proclaim, "I'm back!"

Considering the events since The Great Recession, along with growing numbers of Americans who support socialized college funding and medical insurance, this might be
Robert Clarke
Feb 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book is a chilling account of humanity trying to cope with the "endgame" of capitalism, which up to the upcoming age of climate change and automation-induced unemployment, had enriched everyone's lives extraordinarily well.

Frase's fourth scenario, "Exterminism" is a horrifying amalgamation of Elysium, Atlas Shrugged, BioShock, The Terminator, Manna, and Ender's Game - where the isolated wealthy elite in charge of the robots use those robots to genocide the immiserated "buggers" left unempl
“Something new is coming.”

Fuck yes this is good. Short, well-written exploration of what the twin challenges of automation and climate change might bring us in the future. Not as prediction but as a call to arms. Frase mines the history of leftist thought for useful ideas and uses recent sci-fi pop culture as metaphors for exploring them. The book covers a lot of ground in a small package and ties together a lot of ideas that any ‘progressive’ interested in technology has likely already come acr
Brandy Cross
Feb 22, 2021 rated it liked it
Thought experiments serve no value expect to make the reader think. It's a pity then, that these ask so little of that. Though I strongly suspect the brevity was an attempt to appeal to Frase's readers at Jacobin, it leaves little room for more than the briefest of conjecture in any of the four concepts. Brevity is, however, the worst element of this book, so it can't be all that bad.

Four Futures is broken into eponymous parts. Each pulls from a combination of literary and real-world references
Aug 09, 2020 rated it liked it
As the title suggests there are four possible future configurations of society and they're all already here to varying degrees. Abundance and egalitarianism, abundance and hierarchy, scarcity and egalitarianism or scarcity and hierarchy. These four configurations come with very different levels of violence and its unclear as yet which one we will end up with. The two major macro trends facing humanity today are the automation of labor and ecological destruction. How we decide to respond to these ...more
Mar 07, 2020 rated it it was ok
One would imagine that a book envisioning (but as the author constantly reminds us does not guarantee) four distinct post-capitalist scenarios involving socialism, communism, scarcity and abundance should be if nothing else interesting.
Somehow however, this book is not.
Maybe it’s the overly technical language. Maybe it’s the reliance on science fiction tropes (a genre I’m not particularly familiar with). Most likely it’s the relentless gloom of the author.
Yes, it’s difficult to be bright an
May 14, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Read it for a reading challenge. Economics is just boring, man.
Jun 15, 2017 rated it did not like it
Sometimes you click on a link somewhere, in something that you’re reading, which takes you to another link and another and another as you continue the train of thought of your line of inquiry as far as time allows. When that happens to me, often times the end of the line in the referrals process is a book, which I sometimes put in my Amazon cart and forget about it till it arrives at my doorstep and I pick up the book and try to figure out what I was thinking.

So it goes with “Four Futures”. This
Dec 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This was a great read. So great, in fact, that I couldn't put it down. I read it in one day. It felt like the exact book that I needed at this moment. It answered the still lingering question: What's next? Where do we go from here? The biggest takeaway for me was the importance of a universal basic wage. If you have a knee-jerk reaction to the notion of people getting paid for doing nothing, then you should read this book. Technology will inevitably continue to replace workers and drive down the ...more
Sanjay Varma
Dec 04, 2016 rated it liked it
This book is really concise. I skimmed the whole thing but was put off by his writing style from giving it more attention. He proposes two axes on which to understand social organization:

Hierarchy --> Equality
Scarcity --> Abundance

He does a business 101 comparison of the four possible quadrants in this matrix. Many of his examples are drawn from sci-fi novels. He tries to squeeze socialism, capitalism, and communism into quadrants, but I think this was unnecessary, and didn't enhance his argumen
Vivian Zhang
Jun 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
I actually used to imagine the fourth future as a kid - it's scary to think that this could be our potential future. The precedence we've already seen make a lot of the ideas brought up in this book very plausible and I wonder what role I will play in shaping the future as time goes on. ...more
Jun 21, 2017 rated it liked it
I am often astonished at the power of a really simple futuring technique - such as 2x2 matrices - to generate such interesting results. This book represents one such exercise. There are many of the conclusions that I don't agree with, there are some parts where I feel that the model is ill-defined, but the overall product is one that ought to commend our attention.

The basic premise of the book - that the liberal order established by the Washington Consensus has moved beyond it's shelf life. It's
Zachary Brown
Feb 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
So good. Sci-fi stuff to explain the social changes coming in the very near future. And its got some real passion behind it. Not too long either. Fantastic . huge fan
Apr 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
Really closet to 3.5 🌟
jasmine sun
Feb 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
4.5* for premise, 3* for execution? one of the rare times i thought a book should’ve been longer!

no one reads ken liu short stories and expects them to be realistic, to build a complete and coherent world, or to outline a path from the present day to the utopia/dystopia portrayed.

likewise, you have to understand what this book is before reading it. this book is not a blueprint, a deep dive, or an analysis of modern capitalism. instead, it’s a brief thought exercise about four post-capitalist fu
Greg Brown
Oct 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
Climate change is coming, and it'll inexorably change our society. But there are two big questions to be decided over the next half-century: will technological abundance outpace the ecological devastation, and who will benefit from the fruits of that abundance?

Depending on how each question breaks, Frase posits four possible futures. If we're lucky and technology delivers a solution to the carbon crisis, then we'll be living in abundance; if everyone gets to share in that abundance we'll have co
Apr 29, 2019 rated it did not like it
Having picked this book in audio version semi-randomly for my morning cycling routine, it starts with an interesting premise. Which possible futures could be awaiting for humankind, knowing that climate change and automation are ever-increasingly influencing our world? About halfway through the first chapter, the spectres of global warming and robotization are sneakily joined by a third spectre: class struggle. This is the first red flag about the book's true intentions, and more rapidly follow. ...more
Nov 26, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: analysis
This is a disturbing, if not prescient, book. As the title makes clear, Frase outlines 4 possible post-capitalism futures: 1. A utopia of equality and abundance envisioned by Keynes in which all share in the fruits of a society without work. The idea of the elimination of work, while popular, seems ill considered. We will not easily automate home construction, the work of tradesman or menial work such as housework. 2. What Frase terms "rentism" where a wealthy class owns the technology that prod ...more
Jan 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An interesting look at a few possibilities for our future. The author is careful not to make any specific predictions, and, in my opinion, it's better for that. Those sorts of predictions are always garbage anyway, which means that focusing on possibilities, rather than probabilities, is a more productive way of thinking about the future. It pretty much fits with my view of what might happen in the future, too. There's both opportunity and peril in the future, and we have to change things signif ...more
Mar 31, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I read this book very quickly, which I consider both a positive and a negative. On one hand Frase's ideas and how he structured the book definitely held my interest and offered food for thought. Already the equality/hierarchy and abundance/scarcity axises Frase describes have sparked some fascinating (if gloomy) conversation with friends and family. However, I was also frustrated with the book's sometimes brief and shallow treatment of issues and ideas. I found myself using it more as an annotat ...more
Jan 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this brief excursion into some of the possible futures we could witness within the coming few decades or so. Peter Frase peppers his theories with elements of pop culture and history that make the situations described within more relatable and easy to imagine, thus making the book a breeze to go through. I actually found myself a bit sad to see it end, but the final message contained within regarding carving out the path to the future we wish most to achieve definitely resonated ...more
Feb 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, climate
An interesting look at four different possibilities for our future, extrapolating from the likelihood of climate change, automation, and how we adapt to both of those probabilities. I enjoyed the way Frase drew from books by fiction writers like Kim Stanley Robinson as well as academic theorisers. What really struck me is the proximity of some of these futures already, and how important it is for us to act now to make sure we have the future that works for many people, not just a few.
Steven Peck
Dec 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A must read. Thoughtful, economic analysis of where we are heading under the growning problems of climate change, technological innovation, and the undermining of democracy. Does not even pretend to imagine that capitalism will survive the onslaught.
Apr 17, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: ecology
This is a mildly interesting book that ultimately left me unsatisfied. I intend to use this review to untangle some of why that was, because I see its flaws as mirroring important flaws in the perspective and program of much of the mainstream left.

I approved of the book’s overall goal of sketching out hypothetical futures. A lifelong science fiction enthusiast myself, I appreciated Frase’s thoughts on science fiction as a means of social inquiry. I am also generally in agreement with Frase’s ov
Apr 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
the introduction serves this book well, as it lays out how the author plans to tackle the issues of control and availability in lear, concise fashion, but also softens the letdown of a "social science fiction" book... a tad light big theories, but since the reader comes in knowing the author has no plans to argue certain points (ubiquity/progression of tech, for one) it does mean certain circularities or endless arguments can be avoided altogether... his matrix of communism, socialism, rentism, ...more
Nov 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Me parece que el autor propone una vertiente de izquierda política, con mucha inteligencia. Congruencia y sobre todo con propuestas.

Qué quisiéramos de un futuro mucho más común. Compartido y sobre todo incluyente.
Me voló la cabeza de que el capitalismo se basa en la propiedad privada de las ideas. Creo que es algo que he venido replicando con mis alumnos y que incluso ahora, me parece sumamente peligroso.

Un gran libro para reflexionar, ameno y de disfrutable lectura.


It seems to me that t
Jan 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
I really like the premise of this book, but really, I was wanting more: more content, deeper dives, more of a challenge. Maybe I blasted through it because I'm generally in agreement with the worldview. But billed as 'social science fiction' I guess I expected more in the way of speculative fiction. That said, what I didn't expect was a thorough review of how each of these four future have clear roots in our contemporary society, and we have a choice to being evolving to, or through, them, even ...more
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Peter Frase is an editor at Jacobin magazine, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the CUNY Graduate Center, and has written for In These Times and Al Jazeera. He lives in New York City.

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The last five years of world history have been nothing if not...eventful. When living in interesting times, there's nothing better for...
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“the path that leads to utopia is not necessarily itself utopian” 1 likes
“In a common lesson about electromagnetic forces, students are given an exercise in which a bar magnet is placed on a table surrounded by scattered iron filings. The invisible field surrounding the magnet will draw the filings into alignment with it, until the swirling starburst shape of the field becomes visible. The capital relation is a kind of social magnet, with capital at one end and labor at the other, that tends to align all other social hierarchies with the master hierarchy based on money. Hence the hierarchy of athletic ability is translated into a hierarchy of payment for performing professionally. And yet the magnetism of capital is not so strong that it can perfectly align all the systems. Fame, for example, may in general be translatable into money (as when Kim Kardashian releases a smartphone game that becomes wildly successful), but the conversion is not an exact or uniform one.” 1 likes
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