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What comes next?

from David Ruccio

The other day, I expressed my doubts about Paul Mason’s arguments about postcapitalism. But others see his argument in a much more positive light, including some friends of mine, Jenny Cameron, Katherine Gibson, and Stephen Healy [ht: sk].

They, too, however, assert that “technology does not in and of itself guarantee a better future.” What are needed, and which they see emerging in the midst of capitalism today, are “explicit ethical commitments that are developed independent of online apps and cyber networks.”

Technology is augmenting relations of care for others. Technology does not bring these relations into being.

In our research on the diverse economic practices that exist outside the purview of mainstream economics, we find people are forging new types of economies around six ethical concerns:

  • What do we need to survive well?
  • What happens to surplus, or what is left over after our survival needs have been met?
  • How do we act responsibly to those whose inputs help us to survive well (whether other people or the environment)?
  • How much and what do we consume in order to survive well?
  • How do we care for the commons – the gifts of nature and intellect that we rely on?
  • How do we invest so that future generations can also live well?

I think they’re right: we do need to be aware of the ways the existing set of relations—the relations of capitalist commodity production—not only create capitalist subjects, but also noncapitalist subjectivities.

The way I’ve put it in my own writing, capitalist commodity production both presumes and constitutes particular kinds of individual subjects (which Marx referred to as “commodity fetishism”). But it also brings into existence new collective subjectivities—new ways of “being in common”—that can transcend capitalism.

A concrete example might help here. The existence of capitalist healthcare (of healthcare providers as well as healthcare insurers) both presumes and supports the idea that healthcare is an individual concern: we are supposed to take care of our own individual healthcare (whether through the established healthcare system or via “alternative” therapies) and purchase healthcare commodities (again, either established or alternative) if and when they are necessary. But it is also the case that the existence of healthcare commodity markets also brings together providers and consumers—nurses, doctors, and patients—who have an interest in a different kind of healthcare, one that is less interested in profits and more in the well-being of both providers and consumers.

That alternative subjectivity—that “being in common” in relation to healthcare—can serve as the basis of a noncommodified, noncapitalist form of healthcare. And, pace Mason, new kinds of information technologies might even be useful for connecting producers and consumers in postcapitalist ways. There’s nothing automatic about it, of course. Still, both signal the possibility of ways of moving beyond capitalism.

The key is to find ways to combine emerging information technologies and ethical concerns in a political movement that is inspired by a fundamental critique: both what is wrong with the existing order and an imagining of a concrete alternative.

  1. graccibros
    July 31, 2015 at 3:24 pm

    And you can apply what you have written above David to the entire realm of the human-nature dynamic, which economics seems incapable of handling, even something as logical and basic as an effective carbon tax. I’m echoing much of Richard Smith’s critique here in “Green Capitalism: the God that Failed.” Capitalism can’t plan effectively long term for the common good, can’t, even, in America, provision for infrastructure upkeep, much less replacement/update. Anyone following the bodies that meet on the fate and shape of the electric grid? Who, exactly, represents the public interest?

    David Brooks column in the NY Times this morning, “Two Cheers for Capitalism,” suggests he’s staying on the bridge of the Titanic; can Elon Musk save us?

  2. davidmbrichardson
    July 31, 2015 at 4:52 pm

    I assume, David, that you are writing in the USA, where what you say will no doubt be tarred with the brush of Socialism. In relation to health services, what you are talking about actually happened, more or less, here in the UK at the end of WWII – with no input of new technologies. It was quickly chipped away at by vested interests, but still survives to a great extent, despite the efforts of our present government.

  3. J de V
    August 1, 2015 at 3:13 am

    Specifically in respect of U.k NHS jeremy hunt a son of mrs thatchers’ favourite admiral. However minister for work and pensions iain duncan smith has presided over a regime responsible for >90 deaths of disabled recipients via welfare denial system, pioneered in U.S by Unum Provident, but halted in california via a class action. Unfortunately less & less a feasible option in Uk due to decimation of legal aid.

  4. August 1, 2015 at 3:54 am

    Humanity is more than ready, and in dire need of, a world-shaking economic “Plan B”. Tell the hard truth about wars, wealth inequality, and the billions of our fellow human beings unnecessarily living lives of suffering and misery, and get on with the work of creating heaven on Earth.

  5. August 3, 2015 at 8:49 pm

    I will dare to go one step forward from Paul Mason’s argument and assert that capitalism in its purest form has already collapsed, what would explain the frequency and intensity of recent economic crises. I think that by ‘waiting for something to happen’ we are missing the existing evidence that points towards the beginning of a new social and economic paradigm for the millennial generation. For full text refer to: http://forwardeconomics.net/2015/07/26/liquid-society/

  6. August 5, 2015 at 11:04 pm
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