PostCapitalism: a pro-commons, anti-IP plan?

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Extract from excerpts of forthcoming book PostCapitalism by Paul Mason published in The Guardian:

Postcapitalism is possible because of three major changes information technology has brought about in the past 25 years. First, it has reduced the need for work, blurred the edges between work and free time and loosened the relationship between work and wages. The coming wave of automation, currently stalled because our social infrastructure cannot bear the consequences, will hugely diminish the amount of work needed – not just to subsist but to provide a decent life for all.

Second, information is corroding the market’s ability to form prices correctly. That is because markets are based on scarcity while information is abundant. The system’s defence mechanism is to form monopolies – the giant tech companies – on a scale not seen in the past 200 years, yet they cannot last. By building business models and share valuations based on the capture and privatisation of all socially produced information, such firms are constructing a fragile corporate edifice at odds with the most basic need of humanity, which is to use ideas freely.

Third, we’re seeing the spontaneous rise of collaborative production: goods, services and organisations are appearing that no longer respond to the dictates of the market and the managerial hierarchy. The biggest information product in the world – Wikipedia – is made by volunteers for free, abolishing the encyclopedia business and depriving the advertising industry of an estimated $3bn a year in revenue.
New forms of ownership, new forms of lending, new legal contracts: a whole business subculture has emerged over the past 10 years, which the media has dubbed the “sharing economy”. Buzzwords such as the “commons” and “peer-production” are thrown around, but few have bothered to ask what this development means for capitalism itself.

I believe it offers an escape route – but only if these micro-level projects are nurtured, promoted and protected by a fundamental change in what governments do. And this must be driven by a change in our thinking – about technology, ownership and work. So that, when we create the elements of the new system, we can say to ourselves, and to others: “This is no longer simply my survival mechanism, my bolt hole from the neoliberal world; this is a new way of living in the process of formation.”

This sounds compatible with the [WIFO theory of change](Welcome to WIFO Discourse](). I’m not sure how central building up commons-based production to compete with and demolish the constituency for and abolish intellectual property is to Mason’s schema. There are some positive hints throughout, and a few negative ones, e.g., contained in:

if a free market economy plus intellectual property leads to the “underutilisation of information”, then an economy based on the full utilisation of information cannot tolerate the free market or absolute intellectual property rights.

“Cannot tolerate” may hint at some feeling of inevitability, which if held, is totally misguided. IP restrictions can ratchet to far greater extremes than seen now, e.g. mass criminalization and state conflict. Dystopia is a real option, and muddling through most likely. “Absolute” may hint at toleration of continued treatment of knowledge as property and support of the usual tepid and commons-unaware reforms. This would also be totally misguided.

Mason is writing from a left-wing perspective, hence equality comes first and markets viewed with skepticism at best. But one ought take on a similar pro-commons and anti-IP program if one’s commitments hold that post-capitalism implies really free markets, or if one thinks security and existential threats trump both equality and freedom.

The amazing thing about the pro-commons and anti-IP agenda is that its implementation can increase all 3 of freedom, equality, and security, and do so incrementally and sustainably. A good future depends on it.

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