Ann Pettifor

Is capitalism “mutating” into an infotech utopia?

Photo by Graham Lacdao St. Paul's Cathedral
Photo by Graham Lacdao St. Paul’s Cathedral

I was privileged to be invited by the St. Paul’s Institute to discuss (on the 3rd November, 2015) the thesis in Paul Mason’s recent book PostCapitalism: A Guide to Our Future with a keynote speech from the author.

Mason’s book is both a riveting and intellectually exhilarating read. It challenged me at a range of levels, and has added considerably to my list of must-read books. However, I have strong disagreements with Mason, and these are outlined in my review, published here as a PRIME e-publication.

I disagree primarily with his assumption that capitalism is subject to Kondratieff waves or “mutations”. The implication is that these waves are “natural” and unavoidable – beyond human agency. I strongly disagree. We have subordinated capitalism to the interests of society before – during the Golden Age of Economics from 1945 – 1971 – and can do so again.

Second, Mason is preoccupied by profits. I consider profits to be an out-of-date account of the rise in capitalist wealth, which is now accumulated as capital gains by the new, expanded and more ruthless rentier capitalism.

Photo Graham Lacdao, St. Paul's Cathedral
Photo Graham Lacdao, St. Paul’s Cathedral

Third, Mason is optimistic about technology’s ability to eliminate pricing, to free up knowledge and to empower society to act collaboratively and with a “general intellect”. While I share some of that optimism, I see new technology as intensifying exploitation – by barring access to society’s collective public goods, and by transferring all risk on to today’s increasingly insecure working class – the precariat. Above all Mason’s optimism about technology’s role in our future means that he never fully grasps the nettle of ecological limits.

Photo by Graham Lacdao, St. Paul’s Cathedral.



1 thought on “Is capitalism “mutating” into an infotech utopia?”

  1. A straightforward yet ‘stimulating’ & provocative article Ann, it raises many questions about the worlds ‘global’ economic future esp. the relation of ‘technology ‘. I agree with you on the 3rd point, sharing your ‘scepticism’ about technology’s ability to eliminate pricing, free up knowledge & to empower society to act collaboratively & with a ‘general’ intellect & from ‘personal’ experience I witness how technology has ‘intensified’ exploitation by in fact barring access to society’s collective ‘public’ goods.

    For example, believe it or not, over the last few years I have ‘earned’ my living as a Street Performer in the Uk. On the one hand & as a ‘self taught'( growing ) ‘popular’ classical/’cafe’ guitarist I can vouchsafe ‘the internet’ for instance has democratically revolutionised ‘high’ arts learning for the likes of me, ‘I ‘ now have access to arts resources/ material impossible only 10years ago. I’m now familiar with world music(s) for instance that may have taken a ‘lifetime’ for me to gather knowledge of previously, with an ‘instant’ access that far supercedes that of an ‘academie’ student only a decade ago.

    However on the other hand, I’m currently witnessing how ‘streaming’ sites are busy ‘copyrighting’ pieces ( arrangements ) that would otherwise be in the ‘public domain ‘ eg. The Los Angeles Guitar Academy ( see YouTube )I notice has copyright over the classical guitar standard ‘ Romanza ‘ ( or Spanish Romance ), a traditional piece ( Anon ) that has long been covered by & a staple of many a ‘students’ emerging classical repertoire. Ok its the particular tremolo ‘arrangement ‘ that appears to be copyrighted, however this is ‘naughty’ because that ‘tremolo’ style approach is in fact ‘common’ practice on that piece ( i.e. it not unique! ) so therefore ought remain in the public ownership realm rather than be ‘privately'( institutionally ) owned in any way ( i.e. any shape or form! ).

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