Last Friday I gave a keynote lecture as part of the Centre for Culture and Art’s Post-Capitalism: Rethinking, Crisis, Culture, and Politics Conference. The conference included an exciting and inter-disciplinary range of presentations from speakers across the disciplines of economics, politics, arts, history and cultural studies, culminating in an evening lecture by Channel 4’s Paul Mason and a film screening of Boom Bust Boom.
My talk was based on a reading and ‘friendly critique’ of Paul Mason’s recent book: Post-Capitalism: A guide to our future. My general argument was that the book is a welcome and thought provoking intervention from a mainstream journalist, who is therefore able to talk to a much wider and more diverse audience than any number of academics. It therefore matters that he draws that audience’s attention to the systemic and structural features of capitalism.
That said, I didn’t share Mason’s optimism. He argues that we can see the roots of a post-capitalist society. The global economic crisis of 2008 onwards is therefore a potential turning point. Unfortunately, while I agree that crisis can be such a systemic turning point, in this case I do not think it is. The uncomfortable truth – in my view – is that there is no reason to think that capitalism should be stable or progressive. Inherent, frequent and violent crises can be an ongoing feature of capitalist development.
Indeed, I argued that politically induced crises have become a governing strategy. I used the example of European meta-governance to underpin this claim. As an extension to my recent article on this topic, I suggested that we might see the experience of painful and externally imposed adjustment in Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Italy as a laboratory experiment. Much as Pinochet’s Chile in the 1980s, Southern Europe today might be regarded as a barometer; testing how much pain European societies and polities are willing to take. The evidence so far shows that elites can suspend democracy and ratchet down living standards by a considerable margin while maintaining accumulation. Neoliberalisation then, is alive and well, whether we like it or not.
None of that makes Mason’s book a mistake. His work is valuable in the sense that it questions hegemonic ideas, has been widely debated and will provoke popular debate. As such, it plays a role in contesting the future. Post-capitalism might not be upon us, but it is nevertheless important to continue to imagine alternative futures based on egalitarianism and human emancipation.
Paul Mason talking about Post-Capitalism at Leeds Beckett University last friday
So, my conclusion: read the book, it will make you think. For the same reasons, have a look at what Paul Mason had to say and also the other presentations at the event last Friday. They too were enjoyable and though provoking.
Nicky Marsh Show Me the Money