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A Magazine for Sheffield

Paul Mason: On postcapitalism

Broadcaster and journalist Paul Mason released his new book, Postcapitalism: A Guide To Our Future, back in July, the message of which has only become more relevant in recent weeks following the climax of global humanitarian outcry. The preeminent Channel 4 economics editor offers a refreshingly thoughtful insight into the utopian ideals proposed by the notion of 'postcapitalism', a world with a brand new socio-economic system emerging from the sodden ashes of capitalism. Mason's postcapitalism is bidding for a new era of change towards an eventually equal and fair society with information technology fixed firmly at its heart. For readers who haven't read the book, why do you believe the end of capitalism has already begun? Information technology is starting to erode the basic mechanisms of capitalism. Prices fall to zero when you can copy and paste. Wages and work are becoming de-linked, new collaborative forms of production are appearing that can only work if nobody owns the product, and where stuff is being produced for free or for sharing. You talk about an appetite for radical change amongst the populace. What world events in recent years do you think have contributed to this and how did they feed into your theory of postcapitalism? The protests that began in 2011 – Occupy, The Arab Spring, [Spanish anti-austerity movement] the Indignados – had common features: they were inspired and fought for by people with individualist agendas. They came together via networks and they lived a networked lifestyle. They had an expanded sense of the possible, and refused to let hierarchical norms stand in their way. Sometimes, like in Gezi Park, Istanbul, in 2013, they spontaneously tried to create in reality the kind of sharing economy they were able to build online. A tent camp is just an online ideal community projected into real space. Socialising the financial system is one of the four 'victory conditions' you set for postcapitalism. What would a socialised financial system look like and what would be the key elements in the transition towards it? It would be a mixed economy - some credit unions, some ethical banks such as exist in Italy and Spain, some regional savings banks, a state savings bank like the old Post Office Bank, and some privately or corporately owned banks, like the present ones but broken up on regional lines to allow regional mobilisation of savings. Any global banks engaged in speculative finance would only exist within strict regulations that meant if they failed their investors would go bust first, and the moment a bank became big enough to crash the economy by failing it would get broken up or regulated back into a safe space. The transitional measures are not all regulation. We could simply copy and paste the kind of ethical banks pioneered in Italy or grow the existing credit union sector. But ultimately, you’re going to need a redesign of the system and – to use a computing metaphor – a reset. Which existing projects or groups do you feel best embody your view of how a postcapitalist society would look? We're not at that stage. The stage we’re at is mapping the non-capitalist, collaborative and 'solidarity' economies, literally creating a user-generated map of every project – community garden, parallel currency, workers’ co-op. A postcapitalist transition begins by recognising this as a sector and then growing it. Which industries do you see being affected by automation and disruptive technologies next? 47% of all jobs, according to the Oxford Martin Institute, could be automated. So all industries, including many of the service industries we’ve built that rely on low skill. How would you replace housepainters, people ask me? Well, how many people have a job painting the outside of the Gherkin in London? None. Its design means it will never be painted. Apply that principle to cleaning jobs, baristas, etc. How can readers encourage the transition to a postcapitalist society? What technologies can they use to disrupt existing hierarchies? The most basic technology is the one car workers use when they do 'total quality management' - the whiteboard. If we sat around every morning, as they do at Nissan, and asked, “What are we doing wrong and how can we work as a team to improve things?” – only this time not about a production line, but a society – that’s what we need. That’s why I quote a Soviet era economist, calling it “social technology”. Work would ultimately be voluntary only in a postcapitalist society. How do we move towards a society which doesn't value work as a virtue in and of itself? It will take a long time for all work to become voluntary. Right now voluntary collaborations such as those that produce Wikipedia are done in people’s free time. But we could expand free time and see what happens. My guess is more things like Wikipedia spring up - more communal crèches, more self-managed enterprises. Bernie Sanders in the US, Podemos in Spain, Corbyn in the UK - could they change the system from within or are they rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic? They’re all old-style left wingers or socialists, with the exception of Podemos, which grew straight out of an anarchistic, autonomist and feminist protest movement. I absolutely think these movements - but also mainstream liberal and conservative parties - can do things that progress the project towards minimal work, loads of free stuff and a sustainable energy system. I think the Left will get it earlier than the Right, but the precondition is to stop reenacting the conflicts of the 20th century. Capitalism has a view of human nature as survivalist. How could postcapitalism redefine our view of human nature? We’re halfway there, because the neoliberal view of humanity was always bullshit. We were never the kind of 'hate everybody and please yourself' characters Ayn Rand says we are. However, what postcapitalism does as a concept is give us permission to view our charitable, sharing, sustainable selves as elements of a new human archetype, a new kind of person. It's the technology that is creating the 'multiple self', the person with different identities in different parts of reality, but it has also begun to educate us about the merits of sharing. You're currently producing And Dreams Shall Take Revenge, a documentary following the story of Syriza's grassroots. What compelled you to get involved in this project? I knew I couldn't tell the whole story in two-minute news pieces. I knew there would be an almighty clash with the Euro elite. I had to hope I would get my cameras on the inside to tell that story and, with [director] Theopi [Skarlatos] in the lead, that’s what the team did. We’re hoping to get it broadcast or distributed before the end of 2015. You studied Music and Politics in Sheffield during the late 70s and early 80s. Has music played an important role in your political insights? Music – I mean the classical music I studied – taught me above all: no act of imagination is futile. Music is the imagination running wild, through a landscape that is only colour and emotion. Its mere existence refutes the demand of the neoliberals for us to be acquisitive, selfish individuals. Paul Mason will give a talk on The Economics of Hope at Sheffield Students' Union on 10 October, 5-6pm, as part of Off The Shelf Festival of Words @paulmasonnews )

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