I’ve recently read a book called ‘Postcapitalism,’ by Paul Mason, which was subtitled ‘A guide to our future.’ The blurb on the front, written by Irvine Welsh, stated that it was ‘The most important book about our economy and society to be published in my lifetime.’ Having completed the book, I’m disinclined to believe the veracity of Mr Welsh’s statement. However, the book did have some interesting points to make, which might impact on everyone involved in the global cement and building materials industry.
Paul Mason includes a great deal of history in his book, including large tracts of analysis on the evolution of Marxist thinking. He also gives a long introduction to the concept of Kondratiev Cycles (also called supercycles, great surges, long waves, K-waves or the long economic cycle), which are, according to Wikipedia1, ‘cycle-like phenomena in the modern world economy, ranging from forty to sixty years, and consisting of alternating intervals between high sectoral growth and intervals of relatively slow growth.’
The start of the latest Kondratiev Cycles are:
- The Industrial Revolution: 1771
- The Age of Steam and Railways: 1829
- The Age of Steel and Heavy Engineering: 1875
- The Age of Oil, Electricity, the Automobile and Mass Production: 1908
- The Age of Information/Telecommunications: 1971.
In Postcapitalism, Paul Mason suggests that we are at the start of a new Kondratiev Cycle, which will see the demise of capitalism, the dominant economic mode of our time. He suggests that we are entering into a new age of plenty, when there will be a tendency for the price of goods to drop to zero, due to increased automation and roboticisation. Once the cost of labour is taken out of the price equation for the cost of goods, then - with self repairing and self-replicating machines - the cost of goods will drop towards zero. Personally I think that this is rubbish. All goods have a variety of input costs, not all of which can be reduced to zero, and if goods did have zero price, then why would anyone want to produce them? Russia tried this with the collectivisation of its farms after 1928, when farmers were forbidden to profit from their own toil.2 As a result, yields crashed and millions starved. It’s only when profit can be gained that people will be bothered to get off their backsides and go out and do some work. It’s human nature.
However, the number of jobs is decreasing in some countries and real wages are failing to keep in step with inflation, meaning that wages are falling in real terms. Paul Mason points out that Globalisation has created winners and losers, with the losers being those whose jobs have been outsourced to other countries, and the winners being those who are in charge of the outsourcing. The ‘global elite’ continue to do very well in this unequal world.
Postcapitalism comes alive when Paul Mason starts to get away from Marxist theory and instead starts to look at real-world impacts that are likely to radically alter today’s economic systems. Firstly he suggests that global warming may completely re-shape the world, through changing where is considered habitable. Low-lying coastlines that might be prone to hurricanes or typhoons in a stormier world might have to become off-limits. Increasing desertification, or simply increasing temperatures, might make increasing parts of the world uninhabitable. The waves of refugees from these areas will threaten economic models around the world.
Secondly, he points out that populations around the world are ageing and that essentially we have not been saving up enough to look after our older people. Mason suggests that around 60% of the world’s economies are already insolvent when you take future unfunded pension and social care liabilities into account.
His suggestion is that the world’s dominant economic system will change, possibly slowly, possibly sharply, over to ‘postcapitalism.’ This system will have the following characteristics:
- High levels of material prosperity and wellbeing;
- A stabilised and much reduced finance sector;
- A low carbon and sustainable way of living;
- Widespread peer-to-peer projects, networking and collaborative and open-source working;
- Suppression of monopolies;
- Elimination of the global elites;
- Payment of a basic income to everyone;
- Near-ubiquity of robots and automation.
Mr Mason does not say what we are meant to do with all the time that we are going to have on our hands, once goods are free or nearly free, so that we don’t have to go out to work to earn the money to buy them. (Forgive me for saying, but it sounds too good to be true). Perhaps, as a pass-time, you would like to start building castles in the air, like Paul Mason does in his book ‘Postcapitalism’.