Is Paul Mason Right About the End of Capitalism?
Paul Mason is currently the economics editor at the innovative British television news show Channel 4 News on Channel 4. He recently announced he would be leaving the show to further his political campaigning, spreading word of the coming post capitalist economy. He has previously published a number of books, among them Why It's Kicking Off Everywhere : The New Global Revolutions, and Meltdown : The End of the Age of Greed. His book on the current transformation of capitalism is called Postcapitalism : A Guide to Our Future.
Mason's new book describes a new trend in the economy and society which he calls post-capitalism. To understand post-capitalism, first we must understand what capitalism is.
There are an almost infinite number of definitions of capitalism, which differ mainly according to the political leanings of the person who writes the definition. Wikipedia defines capitalism as "an economic system based on private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profit. Characteristics central to capitalism include private property, capital accumulation, wage labor, voluntary exchange, a price system, and competitive markets."
Private ownership of the means of production means that factories, R&D departments, and transport vehicles are all owned by individuals, rather than being owned collectively by the population of a particular nation. Capital accumulation is the increase in capitalists' wealth as they take profits from their business. Wage labor is working for capitalists to survive, something everyone apart from capitalists are forced to do. Markets are another essential part of capitalism. Workers sell their labour on markets, and corporations sell products through markets.
Mason argues that the digital revolution, the spread of affordable electronic devices, and internet connection around the world, have resulted in fundamental changes in the way the global economy works. Mason thinks that these changes spell disaster for capitalism, but that capitalists haven't noticed them yet. The most important change is the free and instant copying of information through the internet. Mason calls this zero marginal cost.
A traditional capitalist model was built on the fact that producing each new product cost something. Making a each new TV, for example, requires components which cost something. The capitalist sells the finished TV for much more than the components cost, but the components do cost something. However, digital products don't have any components, and so the only cost of making them is the time the writer, or animator spends making them. This means that they can be copied for free via p2p networks, or pirate sites, by people around the world. This zero marginal cost revolution isn't limited to ebooks and videos, though. 3D printing means people will soon be able to print houses brick by brick from plans made freely available on the internet. This will disrupt the capitalist construction industry. Mason predicts that no industry will be able to escape the zero marginal cost revolution.
What Comes After Capitalism?
Now that Mason has convinced us (or not!) that we are entering an age of post-capitalism, what will it look like?
He argues that one of the most important steps required in the transition to post-capitalism is the break up of monopolies like Apple and Google. Monopolies stifle innovation because weak competitors are unable to innovate, resulting in less progress. Mason argues that we should cut down intellectual property rights to a minimum. The huge number of intellectual property laws we have today hurts education, because many can't afford rip-off textbook prices. These laws hurt people's health, because people are forced to take branded medicines instead of cheap generic ones. Lastly, one of the most important policies Mason suggests is a basic income for all. A basic income is an income given to everyone, which provides them with enough to survive. Mason argues that this provides us with security in an insecure world. It could also greatly reduce the problem of poverty.
Paul Mason Guardian Panel
Post capitalism poll
Are we living in a post capitalist world or a capitalist world?
Abridged version of Post Capitalism http://abridge.me.uk/doku.php?id=postcapitalism
Wikipedia entry on Capitalism en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capitalism
Wikipedia entry on Marxism en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marxism
Article on the four futures of capitalism jacobinmag.com/2011/12/four-futures/