Tuesday, June 12, 2018

O "Pós-Capitalismo" de Paul Mason

Will there be postcapitalism? Review of Paul Mason’s “Postcapitalism: A Guide to our Future”, por Branko Milanovic:

I will not do any of this since this review is relatively short. I will discuss Mason’s view of the current state of capitalism and of the objective forces that, he argues, lead it to postcapitalism. The gist of Mason’s argument is that the ICT revolution is characterized by enormous economies of scale which make the marginal cost of production of knowledge goods close to zero, with both the quantities of capital and labor embodied in such products tending to zero. Imagine an electronic blueprint of whatever needed for 3D printing or a software directing the work of machines: once such investments have been made there is hardly any need for additional live labor, and since the capital (software) has a quasi infinite life, the share of capital “embodied” in each unit of output is minimal  (...)

When the marginal cost of production goes to zero, the price system no longer functions, nor can standard capitalism exist: if profits are zero, we do not have a capitalist class, nor surplus value, nor positive marginal product of capital, nor wage labor. We are approaching the world of mass abundance where the usual rules of capitalism no longer apply. It is a bit like the world of absolute zero temperature, or the world where time and energy become one. It is in other words a world very far from the one that we inhabit now but it is where, according to Mason, we are going.

What are the ways capitalists can offset driving themselves out of existence? There are three ways, and to those who have read Marxist literature of the early 1910s, they would be familiar because similar issues were discussed then. The first is to create monopolies. This is exactly what Apple, Amazon, Google and Microsoft are doing now. The economy can become monopolized and cartelized as it did in the last decades of the 19th and the first decades of the 20th century.

The second response is to reinforce protection of intellectual property. This is again what the just mentioned companies, or song producers and Disney are trying to do ever more aggressively using the power of the state. (The reader would realize that protection of property rights increases capital unit costs and thus prevents the marginal cost of production dropping to zero.)

The third response is to continually expand capitalism’s “field of action”: if profits in one area threaten to drop to zero move to another area, “skating [forever] to the edge of chaos” between expanding supply and falling prices, or …find new things that can be commercialized and commodified.

Readers of Rosa Luxemburg would recognize here a very similar idea, namely that the existence of capitalism depends on its continued interaction with non-capitalist modes of production and once these are exhausted capitalism will be driven to the world of zero profits. These concerns have an even older pedigree, going back to Ricardo’s view that, without the repeal of the Corn Laws, all capitalists’ profits will be eaten up by landlords’ rents and development stifled, and to Marx’s “law of tendencial fall of the rate of profit” caused by ever greater capital intensity of production.

So Mason’s points in this respect are not new, but situating them at the current stage of capitalism and ITC revolution is new.

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