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Is capitalism “mutating” into
an infotech utopia?
Review: Paul Mason’s Post Capitalism: A Guide to Our Future
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Review: Paul Mason’s Post Capitalism: A Guide to
Published by Allen Lane, 2015
By Ann Pettifor
(Notes for a speech – PostCapitalism: Envisaging A Shared Future with Paul Mason and
Phillip Blond at St. Paul’s Cathedral, 3rd November 2015)
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This book is an intellectually exhilarating read. While I have reservations about
Mason’s thesis, I would recommend Post Capitalism to anyone interested in history,
political thought, the past, present and future of info-tech, and above all, the future of
capitalism. Mason draws on thinkers as diverse as Karl Marx, Herbert Marcuse and the
management guru, Peter Drucker. In searching for an understanding of how capitalism
may progress from here, his book draws on, and spans, a range of disciplines – history,
physics (the wave form) engineering (of aircraft turbofans), computer science,
economics, and political and social theory.
All this, added to his skill as a writer and his knack of drawing on his own (and his
grandmother’s) lived experience in northern working class Britain, results in a book
that is passionate, rigorous and challenging. Regrettably he has not included a
bibliography. That would have taken up many pages, as the breadth of his sources is
remarkable. As a result he has added many volumes to my reading list.
Finally Mason outlines a vision that is not entirely improbable, but could also be
defined as utopian. In this unequal and divided world, we need more utopians. So
despite my own pessimism about his thesis, I do recommend that you read Mason’s
Throughout the book Mason presents capitalism as an apparently abstract force,
subject to cyclical “mutations” (a word that pops up frequently).
Mutation is a natural process that changes a DNA sequence in for example, a virus. So
capitalism for Mason is like a virus that may mutate into a more benign, collective and
collaborative form of human activity.
By defining capitalism in this way, Mason does not attempt to identify and
differentiate between the forces, or groups of individuals driving capitalism. Are they
today’s oligopolists? Are they the drivers behind for example, Amazon, Microsoft,
Apple? Are they organized in for example, the Bilderberg group and do they visit Davos
each year? Or can they be found in Wall St, Frankfurt and the City of London? Mason
keeps us in the dark. In fact insofar as he has a preoccupation with capitalists, it is with
a particular group: industrial capitalists engaged in tangible and intangible modes of
production, namely infotech.
Interestingly, while the working class in Mason’s account exercises agency over
capitalism – resisting wage cuts, adapting to technology, organizing around
technological change – capitalism’s dominant class appears not to have such power.
Instead “it” – capitalism - is subject to underlying forces. “It” “adapts and morphs”