Paul Mason on Post-Capitalism: Why the Global Economic System May Be Breathless

British journalist and author Paul Mason doesn’t mince words when it comes to what he considers to be the dominant ideology right now: neoliberalism. He thinks capitalism and neoliberalism as we know them may have played their last hand.

“What started in 2008 as an economic crisis has turned into a social crisis, leading to mass unrest. And now, as revolutions turn into civil wars, creating military tensions between military superpowers, it’s has become a crisis of the world order,” he said. .

“If we cannot create a sustainable world order and restore economic dynamism, the decades after 2050 will be chaotic.”

Paul Mason argues that if we cannot create a sustainable world order and restore economic dynamism in the face of growing workforce disruption caused by the use of technology and automation, the decades after 2050 will be chaotic. (Toby Melville/Reuters)

Paul Mason is the author of Postcapitalism: a guide for our future, the economics editor of the British television news Channel 4 and a regular contributor to The Guardian and The New Statesman. One of Britain’s most outspoken critics of neoliberalism, he is one of a growing number of thinkers – economists, writers and activists – who, while rejecting the worn-out notion of “class struggle leading to socialist revolution”, nevertheless believe that a more equitable society is possible.

As a journalist, Mason has visited many conflict zones. “In each case,” he wrote in Postcapitalism“the struggle for justice has come up against the real power that rules the world”.

Ideationist Paul Kennedy spoke with Paul Mason about his theory on the evolution of the global economy. Mason explains why he is optimistic that technology and our changing relationship with the state can create healthier and more just societies. Here are excerpts from the interview, which will air on CBC Radio at 9 p.m. on November 25 or can be streamed here.

Paul Kennedy: Haven’t we heard this message before, that capitalism is failing?

Paul Mason: Well, for 250 years economists have been predicting the end of capitalism. Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill and Karl Marx all discussed the problem of capitalism’s self-reproduction. How long can it continue to breed?

Now my idea is that he can continue to reproduce for a long time, provided he can adapt. So whenever there’s a downturn or whenever a societal business model breaks down, what you typically get is a mix of technological innovation and some changes in the structure of the economy and we leave.

Kennedy: So when did you get the idea that we had come to the end of the line?

Paul Mason’s book, Postcapitalism: A Guide To Our Future, argues that the global economy is on the verge of a massive shift that will see capitalism evolve into something completely new.

Mason: If you study the old springs – the 1840s in Britain, the 1890s, after World War II – what you still see is a synthesis of high value labor and high value production.

The problem is that information technology makes this very difficult, if not nearly impossible. Because information technology removes value. Information technology allows us to produce things that could and should be cheap or free.

And so we don’t make, like the Victor record company did in about 1910, shellac records. We create mp3 files and it is very difficult to make money from them.

Kennedy: What I have been led to believe is that this new information revolution will set me free.

Mason: What has happened is that information makes it possible to dissociate work and wages. It allows work and life to become a blur. We will respond to emails from our boss at midnight.

Editor’s note: In the last words of his book PostcapitalismPaul Mason describes how he sees the near future:

Now, what does this mean for the future of work? This means that there is a struggle over time, but it’s not the same struggle as in the 20th century between workers and bosses. It is a struggle to decide who will control and determine the course of automation that may now occur.

The work of lawyers, even doctors, is going to be automated, apart from the poor guy at the burger joint who suddenly discovers that his front-desk job has been replaced by a touch screen. I argue that we should do this much faster…we should automate the world fast.

But to do that, we’re going to have to forcefully decouple work from wages. We have to pay people just to exist.

“The danger is that as the crisis drags on, the elite’s commitment to liberalism evaporates. The successful crooks and dictators of the emerging world have already gained influence and respectability: you can feel their power when you walk through the door of certain law firms, PR consulting firms and even corporations.

How long will it be before Western elite culture shifts towards emulation of Putin and Xi Jinping? On some campuses, you can already hear it: “China shows that capitalism works better without democracy” has become a standard topic of discussion. The self-confidence of the 1% risks receding to be replaced by a pure and undisguised oligarchy.

But there is good news. The 99% come to the rescue. Post-capitalism will set you free.”

(Listen to Ideas’ full interview with Paul Mason here.)

Previous In Bolivia, Francis calls for a reform of the “intolerable” world economic system
Next America's economic system is unfair, say most Americans