#004 Post Capitalism
(Part Four of Four)
In the first three articles I examined the global socio-economic system, (mixed-market) capitalism, and concluded that the system we currently employ to manage global society, is fundamentally problematic and urgently in need of radical overhaul.
Whereas it’s relatively easy to critique capitalism, (most rational and reasonable people at least recognise its many major problems) it’s much more difficult to offer a fully developed alternative that improves upon it substantially, but doesn’t also introduce or re-introduce new and serious problems. Equally, a significant part of capitalism’s dominance over the last several hundred years, is through a lack of coherent alternatives.
Generally the capital controlled media hasn’t helped here, and neither have the common misuses and distortions of the terms and ideas behind socialism, communism and anarchism, by both social democrats (known to some as left capitalists) and by authoritarian state-capitalist regimes, such as those currently in power in China, Cuba, Vietnam and Laos (alongside the former USSR). Unfortunately misunderstandings of anti capitalist theories put forward throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries plague many people’s perceptions of these ideas and here in twenty first century Britain, we have reached a point where market capitalism is widely considered the only possible option, confining all debate to within its highly problematic constraints.
Conversely, many theories have been put forward over time, which offer alternatives to contemporary capitalism that are equally questionable or much worse, therefore if we are to envisage any kind of system after capitalism, it must be one that improves upon all points of criticism.
Fortunately, thanks to the world wide web, and the latest advances in the distribution of information generally, it’s now easier than ever to find a variety of practical and workable theories for future economic organisation, which if implemented effectively, could substantially improve upon capitalism and deliver a more reasonable, just, fair and democratic global society.
In this article I intend to outline basic distinguishing features and ideas a future economic system, crudely labelled post-capitalism, should exhibit and why.
First of all I think we need a system, which dispenses with money, markets, commodities and the wage labour system. This is because coercion, deception, unfairness and inequality are naturally reinforced through these basic concepts. By producing goods and services for market in order to make a monetary profit we create and maintain exploitation of wage labourer (as some of the value they create doesn’t go to them but to the owners of the company they work for) and divert emphasis away from meeting human needs and wants, which is the entire basis of a properly functioning economy. Similarly we perpetuate value distortions, for instance, we direct all focus toward making money at all costs (a medium of exchange/fake commodity) for the individual to take to market and purchase commodities, rather than focusing on what we really need as free individuals and as part of wider society - how to most efficiently produce and distribute and how to sustainably consume and share resources throughout the global community.
I think we need real collective control of the means of production and distribution, recognising all real wealth is a social product of all applied labour that have at some stage gone into the final product, and to regulate real supply and demand we should produce through free, voluntary organisations/associations whilst distributing goods and services through a system of free access, as and where people require them. This would eliminate hoarding or buying to sell/profit and eliminate poverty, monetary based crime, e.g. burglary, allowing for true freedom and autonomy to flourish as individuals are able to self manage their work, satisfy their individual needs through consumption, contribute to production where it is most effective, beneficial, useful and fulfilling, and relieve the constant cash flow, monetary worries and problems that vastly contribute to stress, anxiety, endless “economic problems” and debate.
In order for this to work of course we would need to promote informed and sustainable consumption habits so that people use and consume what they need, rather than gratuitously. Where there is no incentive to profit and sell commodities, the impetus becomes simply to take what we need to be happy and fulfilled, on a short & long term basis. This may mean making use of a car temporarily (as you would from a car hire business under capitalism) for instance, or it may mean seeking possession of a set of high quality speakers say, over a long period of time, to facilitate high quality music reproduction, which could be used for both work and recreation.
On the work side, rather than effectively forcing people to work for an inherently exploitative enterprise to one degree or another, for their right to exist, as happens under capitalism, we should allow people the freedom to work alone or voluntarily associate with others in organisations designed to socially produce the goods and services we need and choose to provide. This would eradicate the concept of unemployment as everyone could contribute to the social and economic well being of the new economy and allow us as individuals to benefit from both specialism and variety, as people could perform more than one job role if they chose to.
With effective organisation this could be way more efficient than our current economic model, which relies of strict divisions of labour, allowing us to utilise the best skills of everyone but also decrease an individual’s work hours (relative to now) so that eventually work would be considered an enjoyable, productive, fulfilling and worthwhile past time for all concerned. Less popular, less fulfilling and lower skilled jobs that remained necessary in the new economy could be easily job shared, in a manner which would both make sure they were still performed to a high quality but didn’t condemn any one individual to a lifetime of unending dissatisfaction and drudgery.
A second feature of a post-capitalist economy would be an improved balance of representative and direct democracy, where all people have a much more direct say in the issues that affect their lives (political, economic and beyond). This could be administrated through assemblies and organisations on a range of levels and be facilitated in person and through postal & web networks. The idea behind this would be to create inclusive and free & mutually beneficial agreements in all facets of society which would turn the ‘clash of interests’ under capitalism into ‘collective interests’ under post-capitalism, reflecting a true balance of everyone affected, rather than merely representing state and corporate interests.
This would be the arena where everyone who wishes to become involved in an aspect of society can have their say, where issues were addressed based on proper expert consultation if necessary, and offer opportunities to bring very different parts of society together to cooperate and find mutually beneficial ways forward. This goes directly against the idea of representative democracy and of alienated shareholders owning and controlling companies (and their workers). It would rely on the fundamental idea that all humans have worthwhile opinions and contributions, which in turn would reinforce equality, fairness and co-operation between people and work against ideas of social hierarchy, division and domination, prevalent now.
In order for this to work on a macro level, a federative approach seems logical, using recallable (voluntary) delegates from one level to the next, with the aim to bridge the disconnect between the individual and the decisions affecting millions of people. Total transparency would also be a necessary condition in all aspects of decision-making, from very small organisations to global issues, so that any individual could find out about any aspect of any decision made which may have an impact on their lives and therefore have the information and ability to freely take part in it.
A third feature would be the use of automation and 21st century technologies to relieve human labour as much as possible, leaving humans with more time to pursue a wider range of activities (both productive and leisurely), including building, managing and maintaining the machines which allow us to produce and distribute in the most efficient and sustainable ways possible, in any one period of time (through the use of the scientific method). This could be particularly worthwhile in relieving humans of unpopular job roles, to a large extent. Under capitalism, new technology is often employed as fixed capital to displace human labour, to increase productive efficiency and generate greater profits for a company, however it often works against the worker who loses their job or is subject to ‘deskilling’ and can therefore only obtain a lower wage for their work.
Whereas under capitalism technological implementation often leads to job displacement (the rate at which jobs are displaced is much faster than the rate jobs are created through new technologies), leading to a perverse incentive to slow technological advancement to maintain livelyhoods, under post capitalism technological advancement could be used wholly to better all of human existence. Similarly rather than companies building products which have a limited lifespan and holding back advances which allow for commodities with much longer durability (so they can sell the same products or upgraded products again, in the future), organisations can maximise technical efficiency and build non-commodified goods to the highest possible standard, with a given set of raw materials and modern technological implementation.
A fourth feature would be a radical new understanding of the ideas behind ownership, property and possession. Whereas possession and access to goods and services are mainstays of any economic system, and in fact should be widened and liberated as much as possible in a sustainable way in line with global resources, ownership and private property, particularly of the means of production, should be abandoned because the concepts allow for one individual to hold unfair influence over another. For example the big six energy companies operating in the UK are owned and controlled by boards of directors answerable to small groups of major shareholders, despite the fact we all need and benefit from energy.
Under capitalism the owners can set their own prices to best serve their own interests, albeit it under the restrictions of a competitive marketplace, and the rest of us have to pay up to continue to use energy. The energy company owners are not the only people who make use of the energy, yet they wield all influence and power over it, which creates problems, divisions, disconnect, alienation and resentment between users and owners. Similarly, governments owning & controlling industries under capitalism similarly creates disconnects between people and the state and additionally brings about other problems such as mismanagement through the government having limited resources and many other sectors of the political economy to manage at any one time.
The real problem in my view is one of ownership, influence and control. A few people wielding power through private property rights is simply tyranny, whether exercised by the state or private corporate power. The logical solution then is to hold all means of production property in commons, as stated previously, recognising all real ‘wealth’ is a social product of all work performed up to any one point. Social ownership is effectively where everyone exercises a say in economic decisions that affect their lives and no one individual, group or entity can exploit another’s need for a resource, good or service.
Landlords are possibly the most notable example of this exploitation, as they directly exploit a tenant’s need for housing under capitalism. A property owner (the landlord) is markedly disconnected, with different interests and priorities, to the property possessor (the tenant). Under post-capitalism, we would ensure homes are abundant and freely accessible (through a housing organisation) then the ‘possessor(s)’ of any one house becomes the effective ‘owner(s)’ simply because they make use of the house to live in and the house meets their needs, however they cannot ‘own’ a second house merely to exploit another person’s need for it.
“It is only by the abolition of the State, by the conquest of perfect liberty by the individual, by free agreement, association, and absolute free federation that we can reach Communism — the possession in common of our social inheritance, and the production in common of all riches.”
(Peter Kropotkin, 1896)
In conclusion then, with the flaws of capitalism and the advantages of a potential post capitalism in mind, a technically and ideologically improved socio-economic system is possible and worth our serious consideration, better yet, global implementation over the coming decades. Whilst these ideas are only basic concepts and the exact route forward is hard to conceive, if we at least understand the fundamental problems and are able to identify and propose real solutions, we will have already begun the value shift toward a truly ethical and liberated world, for both ourselves and for future generations.