This book, by the Guardian’s Economics Editor Paul Mason, first appealed to me because it offered a new post-capitalist economic model where technology and automation are the primary drivers of change. Much has been written about how automation, robots and AI will decimate the world of work, so a book on how these technologies were a force for good is certainly worth a read. The author takes a particularly left-wing stance on why and how a post-capitalist economy is the best thing for everybody (including using Marx as a starting point) and it almost does its job in convincing the reader that this grand program could actually work. The real value, though, is the way Mr Mason challenges all the preconceptions about the capitalist world we live in now – nothing is taken for granted, and every assumption is thoroughly tested and questioned.
The role of automation in the post-capitalist world is two-fold: to reduce the ‘necessary labour hours’ of manufacturing all of the things the human race needs to survive to as near to zero as possible; and to provide the capability to provide products and services for free (think Wikipedia or Open Source Software as current examples). The key outcome is to divorce wages from work. There is a need, during the transition to the new model, to create a ‘basic income’ available to everyone (which would normally contradict with my own values) but the author puts forward a strong argument and concludes that this would only need to be a temporary arrangement – the first benefit which would only be truly successful once it had been reduced to zero.
Beyond the automation question, this still makes a fascinating book to read. The reader doesn’t have to agree with every point made: it does, on occasions, dip into quite emotive socialist language but doesn’t follow the usual rhetoric of the left, which is refreshing. At some points it over-makes certain arguments, but this is a difficult subject and it requires deep and challenging thought, which Mr Mason has clearly provided. From an automation future-of-work perspective this book should be a must-read, and for anyone who likes their beliefs and values to be challenged at a fundamental level will also find tremendous reward in reading it.
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