After reading “The Global Minotaur” I felt prepared to drift away from my natural tendency to pray to capitalism and its movement which over the years has created its own saints (Steve Jobs), popes (Reagan), and sins (taxes). “Post Capitalism” was the chosen one and its author, Paul Mason, turned out to be quite an intellectual figure. Everything seemed right, the title was pretentious enough, and its prose was dynamic and literary resourceful. It looked like it was going to be fun…and, in a weird way, it was. Until I put it down around page 350 with a dazed feeling of having been dragged along a cascade of thoughts, names, outrageous proclamations and thousands of paragraphs written in, what looked to me like a mixture of orgasmic enlightenment and neo-Marxism vomit.
Yes, it started, as it couldn’t have been in any other way, with Lehman Brothers, public debt, QE, and the end of reality. There had been an apocalypse in 2008 and to save the economy from hell, politicians had decided to trade its salvation in exchange for the souls of regular people.
Ok. Starting with Lehman Brothers always feels exhilarating. Best warm up ever. And, to be honest, it didn’t take the author too long to show he was not just another historian but also an intellectual with some mathematical tendencies: following the logic of capitalism and globalization, salaries from the West were doomed to meet those in China and India until there was equilibrium. Austerity was here to stay and we, people on salaries, shouldn’t complain much because in Asia salaries were still lower; therefore, companies could go there to stop hearing our cries and strikes.
The book has barely started and we already have two big problems unsolved by capitalism: austerity killing demand and a financial system that knows too well it will be saved no matter how bad it behaves. Obviously, this could only lead to another crisis, but next time the governments of the world would have run out of bullets. Mmm… nice. Another looming crisis. I love it. So far, so good.
While the economy has postponed its judgment, it will also have to face another third destabilizing factor: technology. Not like in the 30s with its analog machines, but with digital technology, apps, and a monster internet that can copy anything without incurring production costs. Holy crap! According to Paul Mason, Adam Smith and Keynes never thought a whole massive industry could be founded entirely on knowledge. And if the founder of capitalism and its most famous savior didn’t think about that when designing capitalism…shouldn’t there be a reason to be scared? That’s at least what I feel the author is trying to sell us: fear of the past. Scary determinism.
At this point of the book, I noticed something that it was going to repeat itself over the next 300 pages: chaotic thought. Instead of the simple and clean argument that drives “The Global Minotaur” of Varoufakis, Mason’s Post-Capitalism is truly a hydra with multiple perspectives, brains, eyes, and too many thoughts. Jumping from one to another not by means of logic, but out of passion.
To be fair, the author likes to summarize his thoughts from time to time and so I will.
Our four current riders of the apocalypse:
1- Fiat money. Governments can create money out of thin air and tackle any crisis. So banks can always be saved.
2- Financialization. Instead of having high salaries, we now have low salaries with easy access to credit. So now we are slaves of our debts.
3- Global financial imbalances. Free countries become slaves due to their debt.
4- Technology. Crazy, crazy, crazy
We are already at page 100 of the book and things are beginning to get weird. First, we hear about a guy called Kondratieff and its long cyclical crisis. Then everything is mixed with Marx, lots of feverish passion, chaotic rhetoric, faith, no mathematical analysis, some cute graphics, and mountains of historical determinism. Here is where the book starts, from my point of view, to lose control. Like a Ferrari that going at 300 km/h. riding along the borders of an abyss of truth, doom, and economics. My brain is not happy with its logic, but I have to admit it was fun. Like riding on a Six flags roller coaster fun. One wants to throw up, but it was amazing. So I kept reading …technology is coming (again)…and I’m starting to play with the idea of not finishing the book. Why all that fuss about Capitalism or post capitalism? Why that need of tearing up our clothes in awe when facing an industry (IT) where the price of its products can be reproduced without production costs, where an algorithm can make someone earn billions and where pricing might tend to go to zero (Wikipedia, Google). Even if that was true for all the IT products (which it is not), in the end, we will always have to deal with the indestructible “offer” and “demand,” which seems to me, are at the core of capitalism. Yes, the economy of IT products is different and sometimes setting up prices can be tricky but in the end, copyright, law enforcement, and international agreements will regulate it. Sure, Adam Smith probably didn’t have in mind the “too big to fail problem” and Keynes probably failed to see the consequences of globalization, not to mention the Internet. So what? I just can’t I understand the fuss of the author about the new economy being driven by this disruptive digital technology since all my financial problems come from the simple fact that my salary can hardly pay for my house rent, my food, and my clothes. And I just don’t see the need to invoke the name of Marx every now and then to prove that capitalism was doomed by a prophecy and its own inconsistencies.
Juan Torregrosa Pisonero
Shenzhen, February 21 2016