Techdirt Reading List: Postcapitalism: A Guide To Our Future

from the thought-provoking dept

We’re back again with another in our weekly reading list posts of books we think our community will find interesting and thought provoking. Once again, buying the book via the Amazon links in this story also helps support Techdirt.

There are all kinds of viewpoints in the tech world concerning how technology changes society and economics. Many have argued, for example, that things like open source software, or even the concept of “free” are somehow “anti-capitalist.” For many years I’ve argued against this viewpoint, noting that it’s absolutely possible to understand free digital/infinite goods in the context of traditional capitalist economic models — and I still believe that. All it takes is a better understanding of zero, and a recognition that when something becomes “free” it doesn’t remove all value, but rather expands massively (perhaps infinitely) a resource that can be used to produce other things.

Still, getting to that realization may require a massive cultural mindset shift, and I’m at least more sympathetic to claims from some that the only way to reach that more complete understanding is to argue that it’s going beyond capitalism in some sense. Two years ago, I wrote about this in reviewing Jeremy Rifkin’s Zero Marginal Cost Society, in which I questioned if it was actually the “end of capitalism” as Rifkin posited, or merely a way to fix capitalism.

I have similar feelings about a book released earlier this year by Paul Mason, entitled Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future. The book also discusses how information technology is driving the cost of many items to zero, and how that’s potentially mucking up all sorts of legacy businesses. But, as with Rifkin, Mason recognizes that this is a good thing and has the potential to create a much better world. Also, like Rifkin, he argues that this creates a “post-capitalist” world. I still think that’s fundamentally incorrect, because things with a zero marginal cost still can work in the capitalist construct — but as resources instead of products. However, that doesn’t take away from the thought-provoking nature of Mason’s book in getting people to think about how society, culture and business can change thanks to the spread of technology. And, perhaps I’m just being stubborn in trying to convince people that it’s still capitalism. If thinking of it as “post-capitalism” gets people past the mental roadblocks to accepting zero marginal cost items, perhaps that’s the best way to do it.

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Comments on “Techdirt Reading List: Postcapitalism: A Guide To Our Future”

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Kevin Carson (user link) says:

Quantity to quality

Free stuff can exist within capitalism, sure. But when it predominates, that changes the character of the system. When the majority of inputs are free resources/platforms/commons, and the bulk of production is within p2p networks or direct production for use within the informal economy rather than wage labor for for-profit firms, the system as a whole begins to take on a non-capitalist character.

eclecticdave (profile) says:

Re: Quantity to quality

Exactly. Markets existed in Feudal times and will almost certainly continue to exist into a “post-capitalist” future.

It’s not the existence of Markets that define capitalism – it’s the fact that Markets are the dominating force that determines how society operates that is the key to what we call capitalism.

Anonymous Coward says:

Pure capitalism does not exist. If the present hybrid is to survive then the captains of industry need to stop their predatory practices, it would help if they actual gave a shit about those they exploit. The middle class is being driven out of existence, so who is going to purchase the output of these grandiose capitalistic monstrosities? Captains of industry are screwing themselves out of a future and they do not even realize it … well a few of them do, not many.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re:

They’re beginning to wake up to it; the key is to separate capitalism from society. If you’re only worth what the market says you’re worth, and you can’t contribute to the market, you’re expendable.

That mindset commodifies us as people and that causes problems that capitalism can’t fix.

We need a mix that puts communities first, the idea being to create a platform on which to build and develop self-sustaining capitalist projects that benefit the community in a virtuous cycle. It can be done, we just have to want it enough.

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