Monday, 12 February 2018

Review: Four Futures: Life after Capitalism

Four futures by Frase is a fascinating exploration of four different options for a post-work world due to automation while taking into account the real possibility of ecological collapse.  It's an unashamedly left wing perspective and that makes it an interesting contribution to a debate which generally tends towards techno-libertarianism (this essay on  the blockchain man is typical).

Frase's futures compose of the following worlds:
  • Communism - abundance and equality
  • Rentism - abundance and inequality
  • Socialism - resource constraints and equality
  • Exterminism - resource constraints and inequality
Two heavens and two hells. Which ones fall into each category perhaps depends on your perspective. 

He helpfully draws on cultural reference points.  For example, Star Trek: The Next Generation is used describe his vision of Communism - a world of plenty where the necessity to work in exchange for wages has all but disappeared - giving people the freedom to pursue meaningful activities.  

Also within the Communism chapter, there is an interesting observation that happiness among the long term unemployed increases once they pass retirement age - even if nothing else changes in their circumstances. This suggests that many of our attitudes to work and any associated life meaning we ascribe to it are simply social constructs.  I also enjoyed the description of the welfare state as essentially a tool for partially decommodifying the labour market - an argument which I'd hadn't previously heard.

Rentism is essentially corporate capture of everything - and extending it into further domains. The result is an artificial scarcity through, chiefly, intellectual property.

Socialism is perhaps more realistic vision of a less hierarchical society, but with environmental limits.

Lastly, exterminism is the apocalyptic scenario imagined by many teenage dystopias past and present. In summary, an elite use technology to wall themselves off, or worse, from the "useless eaters" they no longer need.

The book concludes with the compellingly likely idea that we may slip between scenarios eg exterminism may give way to communism. That's not unlike the thought experiment posed regarding various stages of the industrial revolution - where technology might result in a generation of pain, but their great-grandchildren might ultimately benefit. It's nice to imagine that we would all be sanguine about the promise of jam for a couple of generations later, but I'm not sure that's really the case.

Verdict: Interesting analysis of the left's perspective on possible futures from here.

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