Understanding This Political Moment

Book review

postcapitalism

Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future (2015)

 This valuable book has already become one of a handful to mark my view of the world with a “before” and “after,” helping me connect some puzzling dots into a coherent cognitive map.

Paul Mason, whose writing has impressed me in the past with its insight, has done a terrific job pulling together various strands of information and ideas to make sense of our present historical moment. But I’ll warn you it is not a quick and breezy read. Some familiarity with history and economic philosophy (both classical and socialist) is almost a prerequisite.

I say “almost” because Mason is such a good writer that a lay reader should be able to follow the argument with a little effort. His real achievement is not in coming up with an original idea, but in putting lots of old ideas together in an original way.

A central question of the book is how to make sense of the economic crisis of 2008. Clearly the political world has been shaken off its axis by this question, in part by the unexpected rebirth of socialism as a live topic. Suddenly, a mere twenty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, people began re-reading Karl Marx in earnest.

The answer to the question implicates the main argument between old-line socialists and practically everyone else across the political spectrum: does capitalism tend toward crisis and eventual collapse, or does it tend toward equilibrium? Or to put it another way, is capitalism the end result of humanity’s economic development or is there a further stage? Continue Reading

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Predicting a New Economic Era

Book reviews

zero marginal cost

The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism (2014)

Despite its unenticing title, I emphatically recommend this book. It is easily one of the most important books I’ve read lately, as it gave me a better comprehension of the wrenching changes our world is going through as well as providing some welcome hope for our collective future.

The full title is “The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism,” most of which was opaque to me until I read the book. It was the phrase “eclipse of capitalism” that caught my curiosity, and the author’s familiar name that sealed the deal.

Jeremey Rifkin is known for his best-selling works making sense of social, economic and technological trends in the modern world. I’ve read two of his nearly two-dozen previous books, “Own Your Own Job” (1977) and “The End of Work” (1995), one on worker ownership and the other on the impact of automation on employment. Both were targeted on topics I was puzzling through when I came across them, and this one fits the same pattern. We must be on similar wavelengths.

His topic this time is how the internet is radically changing the world economy. And he really means radically in its literal sense—going right to the roots. According to Rifkin, we are experiencing the beginnings of a shift from one economic era to another that is as big as the shift from feudalism to industrial capitalism. We’re talking big, folks. Continue Reading

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