Techdirt Reading List: Postcapitalism: A Guide To Our Future
from the thought-provoking dept
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.