Paul Masons: Post Capitalism. The Transition has begun

Neoliberalism is broken. Since 2008 it's been kept alive like a zombie – as a model it's more alive in the heads of the rich, the bankers, the mainstream economists and the media than in reality. The magazines keep on advertising Rolex, the new yacht, the Maserati – but a part of every watch, yacht or car was paid for by the state.

 In reality the neoliberal model can only deliver: austerity, stagnation, low productivity, the stalled rollout of mass, transformative information technologies  - and the endless creation of low-skilled, barely necessary jobs.

 Asset bubbles and market collapses have become its normal mode of operation, and every boom and bust cycle destroys more of the welfare state; more of the remnants of social solidarity from the post-war era.

 This is not a temporary or accidental crisis. It means neoliberalism, far from being the midwife of a third industrial revolution, has stifled it.

 But with information technology, a new route beyond capitalism has emerged. For me it exists through three objective impacts of information.


1)   Information goods dissolve the price mechanism. Zero marginal cost means the price falls to cheap or free, unless a new – qualitatively new – kind of  monopoly can be created. The purpose of tech monopolies is not only to stifle competition; it is to protect IP and extract rent; and to gather all the network externalities created by networked interaction inside the closed wall of the corporation. But such monopolies cannot exist forever.

2)  Information goods are eroding the link between work and wages. Among the higher skilled, people are paid to exist; to achieve targets; to remain loyal guardian of the company's IP. At the low end workers time and even movements are targeted with obsessiveness never shown in the factories of the Keynesian era. That is because these are as David Graber calls them bullshit jobs – they do not need to exist. This broken link between work and wages has revealed a secret path to the future – that we could  automate most work and find new social arrangements to share out the work that remained.

3)   Information goods allow horizontal organisation, non-managed companies, distributed, peer-to-peer production and consumption. They allow modularity, open source, free or commonly owned things to be produced, or services to be provided.


We will see, at this and numerous other conferences, the emerging practice of the co-operative, collaborative and communal production. Production of free stuff. Creation of platforms to trade in a non-market way. E ethical banks, basic income schemes and parallel currencies. Food banks, co-ops, time banks, communal creches and schools.


But the most audacious thing we have to do is to name what is emerging. It is a post-captialist mode of production.

Once we do this, we allow all the small scale tactical experiments, the innovators, pioneers, refuseniks – to understand what's happening and what is possible.


We are part of a vast, complex project that uses the connections between all things and all people to remove parts of human life from the sphere of the market and into the spehere of sharing abundant things, skills and time.


We could be content to name, to experiment, to connect horizontally all the experiments. But I am not content with that.


I want to demand the right to use regulation, executive power and legislation to clear a space for the postcapitalist economy. And then in that space there must be the freedom to think of large-scale postcaptialist solutions as well as small ones. There is of course freedom to remain small and autonomous.

 Here are the steps I think you need: for governments, companies that want to future proof for this transition; cities; associations.


First – to model current economic reality as ambituously as climate science models the weather. With billions of modelled objects which can, over time, be replaced with real data. That way we can model, millions of variants, proposals for holistic change.

Second – to map the postcapitalist economy. Mapping is better than measuring, but if you want to measure, you measure inputs – work, money, resources – and outputs in terms of holistic effect: how many people feel better; how much slower does climate change happen; how many people are lifted out of poverty and stress.

Third to imagine. No act of imagination is wasted.


Fourth – having mapped and modelled – you propose modular large-scale change.



-       regulation to replace precarious work with work that is flexible and humane.

-       The de-financialisation of the economy

-       The rapid tapering of copyright and patents

-       The universal basic income

-       And of course the rapid transition to zero-carbon energy systems

Instead of seeing these goals as mere demands, or small scale experiments, we see them as post-it notes on the project whiteboard of post-capitalism. Like in a startup company: you take one of the post-it notes off the board, you work on it, record your changes, and then maybe back off and let someone else take it forward.


In terms of our practice – we can do this as individuals; change my behaviour – as groups; transform a small companuy into a co-op; or regulatory change – ie legalise and facilitate p2p lending.


The potential of postcapitalism is clear: it is to remove the barriers to abundant information; promote the abundance and zero price effect into the information layer of real things; and ultimately use network technologies and collaboration to cheapen real things, reducing radically the amount of labour requried to deliver a decent life to every human being.


The possibilities opened up for humanity by information technology are so great that we must pity every generation that did not see them. But we must revere those – especially in the labour movements and utopian socialist communities – who tried to create the co-operative, the humane sharing society within the niches of capitalism.


I personally like to allow certain of these heroes and heroines to haunt my brain as I go about the task of promoting co-operation and social justice. And I whisper to them: the transition is possible. It has begun.