Not replacing Capitalism

This is a comment I made on Paul Mason’s Post Capitalism, with two links to other threads on my local Forum which as of now I do not have time to rescue.  Putting this on my list of things to do …

I’ve recommended following @sustaincities before, e.g. when responding to Lee here (link omitted)

how long on can keep on growing despite limited infrastructure for travel into central london at rush hour.
Because infrastructure for travel is not limited in the long run – noticed any new tube lines built and now under construction? Noticed the increasing numbers of people cycling? Follow @sustainablecities for more

Don’t worry – this is not another thread about housing, but a response to one of the @sustainablecities contributors, David Thorpe, who just wrote

Will the Sharing Economy Replace Capitalism?

– a #QTWTAIN if ever there was one.

It’s mainly about the silliness of Paul Mason, who has a book just coming out

in which

He claims that ‘postcapitalism’ will be made possible because of three changes brought about by information technology: the reduced need for work which will increase due to growing automation; the abundance of free information; and the spontaneous rise of collaborative production, known as the sharing economy

From looking at David Thorpe’s bio, this is someone who has lived for some years in the space where idealism intersects with practicality, and it shows when he writes of Paul Mason

The thing that makes me laugh the most about Mason’s utopian nonsense is the notion that information is really free.

(I might add that what makes me laugh most about it is the idea that capitalists can’t actually thrive on free information – or rather information they don’t have to pay for.)

David Thorpe also knows his Marx, but doesn’t think Paul Mason does:

Why the sharing economy will fail to displace capitalism

But the real reasons why Mason’s claims are unlikely to be true run deeper than this. Despite quoting Karl Marx, who famously said that the contradictions inherent in capitalism would engineer its downfall, Mason fails to recognise the real basis of capitalism: the ownership of land, resources and the means of production.

Not in my wildest dreams can I imagine the hardware – computers, cars, homes, not to mention the energy to drive them – used by these smiling social collaborators of the sharing economy being made in sharing economy style.

The entire project is dependent upon capitalism to function.

Inequality is perpetuated by the uneven distribution not only of capital but of ownership, particularly of land.

But later there is this defence of the rights of ownership in another means of production, where he happens to have skin in the game

all artists need to survive, whether they are producing music, films, books, artworks or dance. That is why copyright, or intellectual property, is important. Copyright allows me to have an income from the royalties on the sale of my books. The length of copyright prevents the unfair exploitation of it by those who have not produced it, and allows the copyright holder (e.g. me) to continue to produce more work.

People like the Pirate Party in Germany who believe copyright should be abolished would, if their dream were to come true, find themselves in a sad world indeed, where the quality of published work would become progressively more miserable.

I’m with him here, although how much copyright protection artists should get can reasonably be challenged – Cliff’s Law did not impress me. I’m also with him when he identifies ownership of land particularly likely to result in abuses, in the sense of getting in the way of the wider public enjoying the products of a strong economy – sustainably, of course.

The problem with his position is that he’s happy to refer to abuses of private ownership, and call it capitalism, but unable to say what a system might be in which private ownership is not, on balance, abused, in the sense that it results in the wider public enjoying the products of a strong economy. The word he is looking for capitalism, as it exists within actual regulated economies, in which by no means everything which happens is the result of ruthless profit maximising. There are plenty of people who make a serious contribution to their fellow citizens’ welfare, making a living for organisations such as the Centre for Alternative Technology – there in David Thorpe’s bio – or more prominently, Tim Berners-Lee dreaming up the world wide web, and facilitating transmission of information, for good or ill (but mainly good), for capitalist or anti-capitalist (but used more effectively by the former).

There’s another problem, which is that he writes as if under capitalism, inequality inevitably increases. Thomas Piketty has recently come up with a theoretical model for why it should always do so, but since stripped of the distortions of looking through the filter of national borders, global inequality has actually decreased in recent years

Source here.  – original post linked to not yet rescued.

there’s something wrong, or at least missing.

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