Paul Mason, economics editor of Channel Four, describes information technology as both product and disrupter of Capitalism.
His thesis, written in his book, PostCapitalism: A guide to the future, is that for a very long time Capitalism has confounded its critics by being more adaptable than could be imagined. However, Information Technology, he opines, poses a new challenge that is different to all preceding challengers.
In his talk at London Google HQ, he describes the main ways in which Information Technology does this:
- The price mechanism is dissolving – e.g. the marginal costs of information goods are reduced to the effort of selecting ‘copy’ and ‘paste’ – this leads to an exponential price downfall. Never before have we lived in an era when prices would fall off a cliff.
- It de-links work hours from wages. Work has become distributed, networked and target based (not time based).
- Organisations, hierarchies and businesses are changing: decentralised, non-managed, non-hierarchical, voluntary and diffuse.
So what comes next?
Interestingly for technologists, he points to the rise of a post-capitalist third sector driven by open source and collaborative action. He sees the rise of a quasi-sharing economy, where information is freely available leading to the optimal use of information. The role of large information based companies will be forever undermined by the collapsing ‘price mechanism’, already under-way. The advent of AI will do the same for service sectors and automation in manufacturing.
The big question though, is just how fast will all this be, and what shape will the transition take?