Mick Kelly's Reviews > Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future

Postcapitalism by Paul  Mason
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A must-read view of economic history and our economic future.

Though I have a lot of points of disagreement with the author, I still think this is an important book that will give any reader the impetus to question many of the assumptions that underlie the politics of the current model of economics - for economics is really just a branch of politics.

My background is in hard science. I did Astronomy for my first degree and Computing for my masters - so I find the 'hand-waving' pretend maths of economics a bit tiresome. And so it is with this book. Paul Mason seems to be from a Marxist background (nothing wrong with that!) and tries (unsuccessfully, in my opinion) to rehabilitate Marxism as a description for the current economic situation.

Part one of the book is economic history, Part two is mostly his treatment of technical and scientific progress and part three is about how a post-capitalist economy might work.

In many ways I disagree with the first two parts and agree with the third - but it is reading the first two parts that gives me the most fun - they are a great stimulus to thought.

His concept is that capitalism contains multiple 'cycles' of activity (the 'boom' and 'bust' we're so familiar with) and we are just about to hit the downturn of the latest one. Well I'm pretty sure that you can see cycles in any data at all - I've programmed forecasting system several times and I know you can find completely meaningless patterns in random data. Without an underlying theory that links properly with the outputs, it doesn't really mean much.

More interesting is his charting of the rise of the newer technologies which are mostly selling information or products which are mostly information. The 'profit margin' on many of these things (songs, books, photos, apps etc) is a meaningless concept because there is no marginal cost on creating them. The first one might cost £1,000 but every subsequent copy costs nothing. So how do you handle that in conventional economics? How do you price it? The answer seems to be that the price can only be maintained by the existence of copyright systems - and that there is a tendency for the price to go to zero.

His thesis is that material goods are going the same way - specifically that automation will reduce and reduce the price until it's effectively zero. This argument depends on the Marxist valuation of goods as being the amount of work taken to produce them, which I think is a bit questionable. What is more interesting is that if you automate everything that is currently called 'work', no-one will have any wages and therefore there won't be anyone to sell things to.

I agree, up to a point, but 'tending to zero' doesn't mean 'is zero'. I do agree that automation does imply we shall one day be free of work and on that day our current system of capitalism won't work (no-one in work = no-one to sell to = no market). How we manage the transition to that state will be an interesting journey.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
July 15, 2016 – Finished Reading
August 1, 2016 – Shelved

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