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Capitalism Has Failed: 5 Bold Ways to Build a New World
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We'll publish them on our site once we've reviewed them. Continue shopping. Item s unavailable for purchase. Please review your cart. You can remove the unavailable item s now or we'll automatically remove it at Checkout. Remove FREE. Unavailable for purchase. Continue shopping Checkout Continue shopping. At some point, the expansion of financial profit through providing loans to stressed consumers will break, and snap back. Modern economies are increasingly based around information. Intrinsically, a computer program is different from a car.
Building each new BMW is as hard as the one before; creating another copy of a computer program is easy. It means that once they have a recipe, they can watch the money rush in. They need to appeal to intellectual property principles a notoriously messy area of the law. Sorry Bing. Or they need to give the product away, then sell something else Facebook sells your personal data to advertisers.
None of these things are intrinsic to the main capitalistic exchange because the old law of supply and demand has broken down. And when we have an Internet of Things, everyone will be connected, enabling unparalleled co-creation and collaboration. Up to now, governments and businesses have said that market mechanisms are the best way to deal with global warming. Consider the numbers. To stay under the two-degree threshold agreed by governments and scientists, we need to burn no more than billion tons of carbon by , according to the International Energy Agency. And yet fossil fuel firms continue to invest heavily in exploiting reserves that, if burned, will result in many times that amount of emissions.
In economics-speak, climate change represents a massive market failure. It would be, as sociologist Manuel Castells put it, like trying to de-electrify a country. By creating millions of networked people, financially exploited but with the whole of human intelligence one thumb-swipe away, info-capitalism has created a new agent of change in history: the educated and connected human being.
This will be more than just an economic transition. There are, of course, the parallel and urgent tasks of decarbonising the world and dealing with demographic and fiscal timebombs.
Partnerism: Post-Capitalist/Post-Socialist Economics
Above all, postcapitalism as a concept is about new forms of human behaviour that conventional economics would hardly recognise as relevant. So how do we visualise the transition ahead? The first thing we have to recognise is: different modes of production are structured around different things. Capitalism was structured by something purely economic: the market. We can predict, from this, that postcapitalism — whose precondition is abundance — will not simply be a modified form of a complex market society. But we can only begin to grasp at a positive vision of what it will be like.
But if such a society is structured around human liberation, not economics, unpredictable things will begin to shape it. For example, the most obvious thing to Shakespeare, writing in , was that the market had called forth new kinds of behaviour and morality. Perhaps there will not even be any playwrights: perhaps the very nature of the media we use to tell stories will change — just as it changed in Elizabethan London when the first public theatres were built.
Both carry around with them a characteristic obsession of their age — Horatio is obsessed with humanist philosophy; Doyce is obsessed with patenting his invention.
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There can be no character like Doyce in Shakespeare; he would, at best, get a bit part as a working-class comic figure. Yet, by the time Dickens described Doyce, most of his readers knew somebody like him. Just as Shakespeare could not have imagined Doyce, so we too cannot imagine the kind of human beings society will produce once economics is no longer central to life.
But we can see their prefigurative forms in the lives of young people all over the world breaking down 20th-century barriers around sexuality, work, creativity and the self. The feudal model of agriculture collided, first, with environmental limits and then with a massive external shock — the Black Death. After that, there was a demographic shock: too few workers for the land, which raised their wages and made the old feudal obligation system impossible to enforce.
The labour shortage also forced technological innovation. The new technologies that underpinned the rise of merchant capitalism were the ones that stimulated commerce printing and accountancy , the creation of tradeable wealth mining, the compass and fast ships and productivity mathematics and the scientific method. Present throughout the whole process was something that looks incidental to the old system — money and credit — but which was actually destined to become the basis of the new system. In feudalism, many laws and customs were actually shaped around ignoring money; credit was, in high feudalism, seen as sinful.
So when money and credit burst through the boundaries to create a market system, it felt like a revolution. Then, what gave the new system its energy was the discovery of a virtually unlimited source of free wealth in the Americas. A combination of all these factors took a set of people who had been marginalised under feudalism — humanists, scientists, craftsmen, lawyers, radical preachers and bohemian playwrights such as Shakespeare — and put them at the head of a social transformation.
See a Problem?
At key moments, though tentatively at first, the state switched from hindering the change to promoting it. Today, the thing that is corroding capitalism, barely rationalised by mainstream economics, is information. Most laws concerning information define the right of corporations to hoard it and the right of states to access it, irrespective of the human rights of citizens.
The equivalent of the printing press and the scientific method is information technology and its spillover into all other technologies, from genetics to healthcare to agriculture to the movies, where it is quickly reducing costs. And many economies are stagnating. The equivalent of the new source of free wealth? It is the rise of non-market production, of unownable information, of peer networks and unmanaged enterprises.
Occupy was right: capitalism has failed the world
In fact, it is the ship, the compass, the ocean and the gold. The modern day external shocks are clear: energy depletion, climate change, ageing populations and migration. They are altering the dynamics of capitalism and making it unworkable in the long term. They have not yet had the same impact as the Black Death — but as we saw in New Orleans in , it does not take the bubonic plague to destroy social order and functional infrastructure in a financially complex and impoverished society.
Once you understand the transition in this way, the need is not for a supercomputed Five Year Plan — but a project, the aim of which should be to expand those technologies, business models and behaviours that dissolve market forces, socialise knowledge, eradicate the need for work and push the economy towards abundance. I call it Project Zero — because its aims are a zero-carbon-energy system; the production of machines, products and services with zero marginal costs; and the reduction of necessary work time as close as possible to zero.
As a result, once the possibility of a Soviet-style transition disappeared, the modern left became preoccupied simply with opposing things: the privatisation of healthcare, anti-union laws, fracking — the list goes on. If I am right, the logical focus for supporters of postcapitalism is to build alternatives within the system; to use governmental power in a radical and disruptive way; and to direct all actions towards the transition — not the defence of random elements of the old system.
The power of imagination will become critical. In an information society, no thought, debate or dream is wasted — whether conceived in a tent camp, prison cell or the table football space of a startup company. As with virtual manufacturing, in the transition to postcapitalism the work done at the design stage can reduce mistakes in the implementation stage. And the design of the postcapitalist world, as with software, can be modular.
Different people can work on it in different places, at different speeds, with relative autonomy from each other. If I could summon one thing into existence for free it would be a global institution that modelled capitalism correctly: an open source model of the whole economy; official, grey and black.
Every experiment run through it would enrich it; it would be open source and with as many datapoints as the most complex climate models. The main contradiction today is between the possibility of free, abundant goods and information; and a system of monopolies, banks and governments trying to keep things private, scarce and commercial. Everything comes down to the struggle between the network and the hierarchy: between old forms of society moulded around capitalism and new forms of society that prefigure what comes next.
We live in a world in which gay men and women can marry, and in which contraception has, within the space of 50 years, made the average working-class woman freer than the craziest libertine of the Bloomsbury era. Why do we, then, find it so hard to imagine economic freedom? It is the elites — cut off in their dark-limo world — whose project looks as forlorn as that of the millennial sects of the 19th century.
The democracy of riot squads, corrupt politicians, magnate-controlled newspapers and the surveillance state looks as phoney and fragile as East Germany did 30 years ago. All readings of human history have to allow for the possibility of a negative outcome.