Postcapitalism and a World Without Work

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* Book: Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work. by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams. Verso, 2015

URL = http://www.versobooks.com/books/1989-inventing-the-future


Description

"A major new manifesto for a high-tech future free from work:

Neoliberalism isn’t working. Austerity is forcing millions into poverty and many more into precarious work, while the left remains trapped in stagnant political practices that offer no respite.

Inventing the Future is a bold new manifest0 for life after capitalism. Against the confused understanding of our high-tech world by both the right and the left, this book claims that the emancipatory and future-oriented possibilities of our society can be reclaimed. Instead of running from a complex future, Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams demand a postcapitalist economy capable of advancing standards, liberating humanity from work and developing technologies that expand our freedoms."


Author's presentation

Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams:

"On a surface level, it is a book analysing post-work, the global crisis of surplus populations, and the challenges of rebuilding the contemporary left. Yet it is also a book designed to intervene in the current political conjuncture. It is written to produce discussions, rather than close them down; to spark debate, rather than dictate; and hopefully to persuade people of the utility of its prescriptions. As such, this blog event is the perfect avenue to inaugurate what we hope will be a series of productive engagements. Rather than simply summarising the book here, it is perhaps more useful if we briefly outline some of the debates we sought to contribute to.

The first such debate is the question concerning the dismal state of the left. While some find elements of hope in the contemporary left, for most it has been a series of marginal successes at best, and outright defeats at worst. In the book we attempt to offer a new explanation for why this is the case. Without rejecting the contributing factors of objective changes in the organisation of capitalism, and subjective changes in the self-understanding of class, we try to add a third explanation based upon a widespread common sense amongst the left. It is what we call ‘folk politics’: an intuitive set of beliefs that leads those on the left to instinctually turn towards immediacy as the solution to political problems. It finds greater and lesser expression in a series of recent movements, and while sometimes explicitly valorised, more often than not it goes on unconsciously in practices and habits. Our argument is that this folk political common sense tends to lead movements to organise and do politics in a way which constrains the possibility of escaping a global capitalism. This does not mean that folk politics should be rejected or dismissed; rather we simply try to point to its wide circulation and strategic insufficiency.

On a second level, the book seeks to generate discussion about what the future should look like. Too often, the activist and academic left only offers visions of the future in negative terms: the end of wage-labour, the end of racism, the end of sexism, the end of colonialism. These are all agreeable, of course, but ultimately remain empty signifiers. If we want a better world, we need to have some idea of where we are going. This doesn’t mean taking the opposite tack, and outlining a detailed plan for a future society (as with Parecon and New Socialism, for example). Rather it means setting out a series of broad proposals for what should be desired, what can be achieved, and how to get there. We have no illusions about the errors, biases, and limitations that our own proposals will include. We are, indeed, keenly aware of the limits of a small book written for a general audience. But the point of setting out a vision of the future and a series of demands is to lay our cards on the table for others to take up, critique, or reject. It is too easy to adopt a comfortable critical stance against the world.

Finally, discussions about the problems of the left and visions of the future must come together in debates over how to rebuild the power of the left and bring about a new future. To this end, our argument is for a counter-hegemonic strategy across an ecology of organisations, intervening in newly discovered and constructed points of leverage. While we try to give some concrete content to these broad proposals, we have also intentionally pitched these ideas at a level which allows them to be taken up in different forms across different countries and under different conditions. It is our hope that people who are convinced by our analysis and proposals will then take up these broad ideas and translate them into their own specific circumstances. We offer the book as a possibility – one among many – of what the future could look like." (http://thedisorderofthings.com/2015/11/02/inventing-the-future/)


Excerpt

Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams highlight what they see as the likely outcomes of an increase in the level of technological unemployment brought about by an increase in automation through robots and data-driven software:

“1) The precarity of the developed economies’ working class will intensify due to the surplus global labour supply (resulting from both globalisation and automation).

2) Jobless recoveries will continue to deepen and lengthen, predominantly affecting those whose jobs can be automated at the time.

3) Slum populations will continue to grow due to the automation of low-skilled service work, and will be exacerbated by premature deindustrialisation.

4) Urban marginality in the developed economies will grow in size as low-skilled, low-wage jobs are automated.

5) The transformation of higher education into job training will be hastened in a desperate attempt to increase the supply of high-skilled workers.

6) Growth will remain slow and make the expansion of replacement jobs unlikely.

7) The changes to workfare, immigration controls and mass incarceration will deepen as those without jobs are increasingly subjected to coercive controls and survival economies.” (http://progressivescience.org/index.php/2017/02/11/data-is-not-neutral-how-powerful-interests-are-shaping-21st-century-technology-and-robots-not-immigrants-are-taking-your-job/)

Reviews

Neal Lawson

"Inventing the Future burst its way in with its triple whammy cover demands for FULL AUTOMATION, BASIC CITIZENS INCOME, AND THE FUTURE: demands that quicken the pulse not just because they are radical, but because they are coherent, systemic and chime with the direction of travel of our cultural and technological age.

The book is really three arguments: we must actively embrace the future, have a sense of universalism, and therefore must observe the limits of ‘folk politics’. This is where the book starts. They quote someone called Jodi Dean saying “Goldman Sachs doesn’t care if you raise chickens”. There, in one short sentence, we have it; the retreat to the local, the pre-figurative, the emphasis on resilience, the rejection of the universal and the systemic – all an enormous blind alley for the left if that is all you do. I’ve always particularly hated the term ‘resilience’; it’s just another word for giving up, hunkering down and learning how to take the blows of a system that treats us as sub-human. In the face of a monolithic opponent (neo-liberalism) that wins because it denies the possibility of any other way of reproducing society, we retreat and pretend we can survive, even thrive, from the politics of the local and the particular. We can’t. Eventually, we need a universal and systemic response to neo-liberalism.

We were always told that ‘all politics is local’ – but is it any more? When in the palm of your hand you can connect with anyone on the planet about anything, when issues, problems and solutions are all eventually global? And even if all politics is local, what happens when it stays local? Again, just think of Goldman Sachs’ response to such a situation. The authors say folk politics is simply “partial, temporary and insufficient”. The local and the particular matter, but only if they allow the national, global and universal to come into being. It is the connection between the two that matters, with the universal eventually being the goal.

The second part of the book examines the rise of the new right. This has been done before of course, but not in the context of a left alternative. The book shows how the new right purposefully built a universal alternative to the social market politics of the middle decades of the last century. Hayek talks about “a programme which has the chance of gaining general support” and therefore the task must be “essentially a long run effort”. They took themselves seriously in their project. The Mont Pelerin Society met for ten days for its inaugural meeting. Can you image people now giving anything more than a day? Ideas, strategy and the relationship that make them happen, take time. When will we take ourselves as seriously?

The embrace of universal alternatives is especially necessary given “neo-liberalism’s inherently expansionary nature, only an alternative expansionary and inclusive universal of some kind will be able to combat and supersede capitalism on a global scale”. The authors argue that this must be founded on a substantial conception of freedom by making use of the most advanced technologies.

Third, the book develops an understanding of a new modernity – and critically the replacement of jobs by machines – creating what the authors call ‘surplus population’. Study after study predicts huge net job losses, not because of any single technology, but because of the merger of several: the internet, wifi, advanced algorithms, big data, AI, robots, 3d printing and the internet of things. You can believe the authors and all the reports or not. Yes the boy cries wolf, but the wolf finally comes. Do you feel like we are shifting from an essentially mechanical culture to a digital, connected and networked culture? I do.

This is where Nick and Alex sparkle. Because they demand that we embrace this future, rather than another rearguard action to regulate the protection of dull, dreary meaningless jobs, demanding that the “replacement of human labour should be enthusiastically accelerated as a political project of the left”. If 50-80 per cent of current jobs are capable of being automated, why fight it? Instead we should accelerate the technology, through the state where it can effectively act, to replace bullshit jobs with better lives. As Marianna Mazzucato has argued, it is public investment in technology that causes the big leaps forward, not private innovation. Decarbonising the economy, fully automating work, expanding cheap renewable energy – these are the policy positions in which we invent not just a future, but the social blocs that want such a future to happen. Indeed, digitized information and advanced ways to use it are now so complex that it’s not hard to imagine systems of planning that could outstrip the market in terms of the effective allocation of resources.

This all fits with the Compass view of the good society, one that is more than hamsters on the wheel – even living wage hamsters! Instead of dull jobs until we are 75, we should have lives full of creativity and innovation and time to think, read, play, care, love and sometimes do nothing except daydream about even better ways of being human. Now, of course we have to live, have shelter, warmth and food. This is where a Basic Citizens Income (CBI) comes in – the unconditional payment to all of enough to live on. Compass will soon publish details of ways in which CBI could be feasibly introduced now, but a payment at a level high enough to live well enough, in a world with far fewer jobs, can only come from taxing the productivity gains of the new technology.

For what work is left, the bargaining power of labour increases. We can take it if we want, if it is paid well enough. If we work less, we will consume less, finding pleasures in more meaningful pursuits than shopping. The limit of our technological horizons should be more than the next iPhone; and so we help save not just ourselves but the planet. Work will not be lost over night, but by gradually reducing the weekly working week, starting maybe at 30 hours, and introducing a reasonable CBI, at say £75 per week, increasing it over time would be incredibly popular policies for the left. What is not to like?

The politics of this is to “build up support and a common language for a new world, seeking to alter the balance of power in preparation for when a crisis upsets the legitimacy of society. Unlike forms of folk politics, such a strategy is expansive, long term, comfortable with abstraction and complexity, and aimed at overthrowing capitalist universalism”. In my vernacular it is the Jetsons not the Flintstones to which we should aspire.

The book ends looking at how to ‘build power’. Asking, who are the active agents of the post-work project? If there is no universal (working) class a new ‘we’ must be stitched together. It will be red and green, feminist and anti-racist, mobilising against barriers to immigration, using a common vision of an alternative world and key policy demands like CBI to get us there – taking us beyond the point where “mass outrage meets mass impotence”. It will join the insecure middle class to the precariate. Here, Compass is trying to grapple with the idea of 45 Degree Politics: the point at which the horizontal and the vertical meet, recognizing the need for spontaneity and organisation." (http://www.compassonline.org.uk/review-of-inventing-the-future/)

Ian Lowrie:

"While neoliberal capitalism has been remarkably successful at laying claim to the future, it used to belong to the left — to the party of utopia. Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams’s Inventing the Future argues that the contemporary left must revive its historically central mission of imaginative engagement with futurity. It must refuse the all-too-easy trap of dismissing visions of technological and social progress as neoliberal fantasies. It must seize the contemporary moment of increasing technological sophistication to demand a post-scarcity future where people are no longer obliged to be workers; where production and distribution are democratically delegated to a largely automated infrastructure; where people are free to fish in the afternoon and criticize after dinner. It must combine a utopian imagination with the patient organizational work necessary to wrest the future from the clutches of hegemonic neoliberalism.


* Strategies and Tactics

In making such claims, Srnicek and Williams are definitely preaching to the leftist choir, rather than trying to convert the masses. However, this choir is not just the audience for, but also the object of, their most vituperative criticism. Indeed, they spend a great deal of the book arguing that the contemporary left has abandoned strategy, universalism, abstraction, and the hard work of building workable, global alternatives to capitalism. Somewhat condescendingly, they group together the highly variegated field of contemporary leftist tactics and organizational forms under the rubric of “folk politics,” which they argue characterizes a commitment to local, horizontal, and immediate actions. The essentially affective, gestural, and experimental politics of movements such as Occupy, for them, are a retreat from the tradition of serious militant politics, to something like “politics-as-drug-experience.”

Whatever their problems with the psychodynamics of such actions, Srnicek and Williams argue convincingly that localism and small-scale, prefigurative politics are simply inadequate to challenging the ideological dominance of neoliberalism — they are out of step with the actualities of the global capitalist system. While they admire the contemporary left’s commitment to self-interrogation, and its micropolitical dedication to the “complete removal of all forms of oppression,” Srnicek and Williams are ultimately neo-Marxists, committed to the view that “[t]he reality of complex, globalised capitalism is that small interventions consisting of relatively non-scalable actions are highly unlikely to ever be able to reorganise our socioeconomic system.” The antidote to this slow localism, however, is decidedly not fast revolution.

Instead, Inventing the Future insists that the left must learn from the strategies that ushered in the currently ascendant neoliberal hegemony. Inventing the Future doesn’t spend a great deal of time luxuriating in pathos, preferring to learn from their enemies’ successes rather than lament their excesses. Indeed, the most empirically interesting chunk of their book is its careful chronicle of the gradual, stepwise movement of neoliberalism from the “fringe theory” of a small group of radicals to the dominant ideological consensus of contemporary capitalism. They trace the roots of the “neoliberal thought collective” to a diverse range of trends in pre–World War II economic thought, which came together in the establishment of a broad publishing and advocacy network in the 1950s, with the explicit strategic aim of winning the hearts and minds of economists, politicians, and journalists. Ultimately, this strategy paid off in the bloodless neoliberal revolutions during the international crises of Keynesianism that emerged in the 1980s.

What made these putsches successful was not just the neoliberal thought collective’s ability to represent political centrism, rational universalism, and scientific abstraction, but also its commitment to organizational hierarchy, internal secrecy, strategic planning, and the establishment of an infrastructure for ideological diffusion. Indeed, the former is in large part an effect of the latter: by the 1980s, neoliberals had already spent decades engaged in the “long-term redefinition of the possible,” ensuring that the institutional and ideological architecture of neoliberalism was already well in place when the economic crises opened the space for swift, expedient action.


Srnicek and Williams argue that the left must abandon its naïve-Marxist hopes that, somehow, crisis itself will provide the space for direct action to seize the hegemonic position. Instead, it must learn to play the long game as well. It must concentrate on building institutional frameworks and strategic vision, cultivating its own populist universalism to oppose the elite universalism of neoliberal capital. It must also abandon, in so doing, its fear of organizational closure, hierarchy, and rationality, learning instead to embrace them as critical tactical components of universal politics.

There’s nothing particularly new about Srnicek and Williams’s analysis here, however new the problems they identify with the collapse of the left into particularism and localism may be. For the most part, in their vituperations, they are acting as rather straightforward, if somewhat vernacular, followers of the Italian politician and Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci. As was Gramsci’s, their political vision is one of slow, organizationally sophisticated, passive revolution against the ideological, political, and economic hegemony of capitalism. The gradual war against neoliberalism they envision involves critique and direct action, but will ultimately be won by the establishment of a post-work counterhegemony.

In putting forward their vision of this organization, they strive to articulate demands that would allow for the integration of a wide range of leftist orientations under one populist framework. Most explicitly, they call for the automation of production and the provision of a basic universal income that would provide each person the opportunity to decide how they want to spend their free time: in short, they are calling for the end of work, and for the ideological architecture that supports it. This demand is both utopian and practical; they more or less convincingly argue that a populist, anti-work, pro-automation platform might allow feminist, antiracist, anticapitalist, environmental, anarchist, and postcolonial struggles to become organized together and reinforce one another. Their demands are universal, but designed to reflect a rational universalism that “integrates difference rather than erasing it.” The universal struggle for the future is a struggle for and around “an empty placeholder that is impossible to fill definitively” or finally: the beginning, not the end, of a conversation.

In demanding full automation of production and a universal basic income, Srnicek and Williams are not being millenarian, not calling for a complete rupture with the present, for a complete dismantling and reconfiguration of contemporary political economy. On the contrary, they argue that “it is imperative […] that [the left’s] vision of a new future be grounded upon actually existing tendencies.” Automation and unemployment are the future, regardless of any human intervention; the momentum may be too great to stop the train, but they argue that we can change tracks, can change the meaning of a future without work. In demanding something like fully automated luxury communism, Srnicek and Williams are ultimately asserting the rights of humanity as a whole to share in the spoils of capitalism.


* Criticisms

Inventing the Future emerged to a relatively high level of fanfare from leftist social media. Given the publicity, it is unsurprising that other more “engagé” readers have already advanced trenchant and substantive critiques of the future imagined by Srnicek and Williams. More than a few of these critics have pointed out that, despite their repeated insistence that their post-work future is an ecologically sound one, Srnicek and Williams evince roughly zero self-reflection with respect either to the imbrication of microelectronics with brutally extractive regimes of production, or to their own decidedly antiquated, doctrinaire Marxist understanding of humanity’s relationship towards the nonhuman world. Similarly, the question of what the future might mean in the Anthropocene goes largely unexamined.

More damningly, however, others have pointed out that despite the acknowledged counterintuitiveness of their insistence that we must reclaim European universalism against the proliferation of leftist particularisms, their discussions of postcolonial struggle and critique are incredibly shallow. They are keen to insist that their universalism will embrace rather than flatten difference, that it will be somehow less brutal and oppressive than other forms of European univeralism, but do little of the hard argumentative work necessary to support these claims. While we see the start of an answer in their assertion that the rejection of universal access to discourses of science, progress, and rationality might actually function to cement certain subject-positions’ particularity, this — unfortunately — remains only an assertion. At best, they are being uncharitable to potential allies in refusing to take their arguments seriously; at worst, they are unreflexively replicating the form if not the content of patriarchal, racist, and neocolonial capitalist rationality.

For my part, while I find their aggressive and unapologetic presentation of their universalism somewhat off-putting, their project is somewhat harder to criticize than their book — especially as someone acutely aware of the need for more serious forms of organized thinking about the future if we’re trying to push beyond the horizons offered by the neoliberal consensus.

However, as an anthropologist of the computer and data sciences, it’s hard for me to ignore a curious and rather serious lacuna in their thinking about automaticity, algorithms, and computation. Beyond the automation of work itself, they are keen to argue that with contemporary advances in machine intelligence, the time has come to revisit the planned economy. However, in so doing, they curiously seem to ignore how this form of planning threatens to hive off economic activity from political intervention. Instead of fearing a repeat of the privations that poor planning produced in earlier decades, the left should be more concerned with the forms of control and dispossession successful planning produced. The past decade has seen a wealth of social-theoretical research into contemporary forms of algorithmic rationality and control, which has rather convincingly demonstrated the inescapable partiality of such systems and their tendency to be employed as decidedly undemocratic forms of technocratic management.

Srnicek and Williams, however, seem more or less unaware of, or perhaps uninterested in, such research. At the very least, they are extremely overoptimistic about the democratization and diffusion of expertise that would be required for informed mass control over an economy planned by machine intelligence. I agree with their assertion that “any future left must be as technically fluent as it is politically fluent.” However, their definition of technical fluency is exceptionally narrow, confined to an understanding of the affordances and internal dynamics of technical systems rather than a comprehensive analysis of their ramifications within other social structures and processes. I do not mean to suggest that the democratic application of machine learning and complex systems management is somehow a priori impossible, but rather that Srnicek and Williams do not even seem to see how such systems might pose a challenge to human control over the means of production.

In a very real sense, though, my criticisms should be viewed as a part of the very project proposed in the book. Inventing the Future is unapologetically a manifesto, and a much-overdue clarion call to a seriously disorganized metropolitan left to get its shit together, to start thinking — and arguing — seriously about what is to be done. Manifestos, like demands, need to be pointed enough to inspire, while being vague enough to promote dialogue, argument, dissent, and ultimately action. It’s a hard tightrope to walk, and Srnicek and Williams are not always successful. However, Inventing the Future points towards an altogether more coherent and mature project than does their #ACCELERATE MANIFESTO. It is hard to deny the persuasiveness with which the book puts forward the positive contents of a new and vigorous populism; in demanding full automation and universal basic income from the world system, they also demand the return of utopian thinking and serious organization from the left." (https://lareviewofbooks.org/review/on-algorithmic-communism/)


Baruch Gottlieb

"Their book has some good history in it. Even if your thesis fails, at least do some good history, then people will still read your book. But as far as the present goes, Srnicek & Williams. “demand” for Universal Basic Income is certainly inadequate. UBI is increasingly advocated by the Silicon Valley elite precisely because it enables more of the neoliberal withdrawal of state provisioning of social necessities. If you “choose” to spend your UBI on fast food and prostitutes and then end up unable to pay your rent, have a pension, have health care… its your problem, because there are no more social services to provide for you. UBI will have made it politically tenable to do away with them. A far stronger demand would be one for universal basic housing,universal basic education,universal basic health care etc.

There is no reason in an advanced economy why babies are born in debt for expenses they must incur only to live, and for which they must first prepare and then submit themselves to wage labour in order to “repay”. We already have the technologies which can allow us all to live on this earth at excellent standards, they are not evenly distributed, and even when they are, they are wastefully reproduced and employed.

If we are born with any legitimate debt, it is one we owe to the legacy of exploited labour, which, through centuries of colonialism, imperialism, patriarchy, and other oppression bequeathed us the brilliant affordances of today. Inventing the Future must happen in the present, it is the present which will afford us every future we can imagine. Therefore it is to the conditions of the present inhabitants of our planet we must attend, each and every one of them, with the same care and concern, and with all our intelligence and science, if we want to produce sustainable forms of emancipatory society under the contemporary conditions of extreme capitalist discipline." (http://telekommunisten.net/2016/03/04/inventing-the-future-beholden-to-the-present-a-review/)

More Information

  • Podcasts: Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek, co-editors of “Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a world without work” via

http://novaramedia.com/2015/10/inventing-the-future/ (see: Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek on Inventing the Future Based on Full Automation and a Universal Basic Income


Discussion

Michel Bauwens on P2P and Accelerationism

"I must confess, I have not read the book yet, but I am familiar with various ‘accelerationist’ manifestos, with reviews and discussions on the book, etc .. There is probably not a single book that has been recommended to me so many times by p2p friends, usually in the context of the book that has to be read in conjunction with Paul Mason’s PostCapitalism, which I am in the process of reading, and appreciating.

Is believe though that it is fair to say that the authors criticise the dominant ‘left’ on two points

  • that the left has become localist , and that his is wrong
  • that the left has become negative in its vision of the future, and must positively re-embrace technology and its emancipatory potential


It proposes that two demands should become a priority for change agents: full automation and the universal basic income.

Here then is my commentary on how I believe the p2p/commons movement should position themselves regarding ‘accelerationism’.

First of all, though we do share the critique of localism, it is perhaps not from the same perspective.

it is very important, in a conjuncture of global and national ‘blockage’, that local re-organizing of life and livelihoods take place. It is very necessary to re-organize the supply chains of the basic stuffs needed for life, even as we no that we will never be able to do it ‘just locally’. It is in other words, necessary but not sufficient. What is also necessary, and vital, is to combine the local with the global, not just naturally, because the local is now in any case ‘glocal’, through the networks, but consciously. It is important to organize knowledge, even as it is locally embodied, in global and open productive communities which can share knowledge, expertise and experience. It is just as important to create global phyles, i.e. ethical livelihood organisations that are organized our commons and create power and scale for the alternatives. And it is just as necessary to connect his with social and political movements that are able to scale to any level of governance. In other words, it is entirely counter-productive to see localism and localists as misguided or even as enemies. On the contrary, they are taking the first important steps in a reorganizing of our mode of production.


A second important remark is about the role of technology and automation. In my opinion, most of the debates are very misguided. Of course, it is useless to deny that there is a new push towards automation, especially as it targets the more routine aspects of knowledge and service work, and risks displacing millions of people. But that has happened before and each time, a new economic wave replaced the old one creating new jobs in new sectors. And the reason is simple, automation does not just destroy, it liberates human energy and resources to do entirely different things. Hence the problem is never just automation, but the economic structure in which this automation is embedded. And under neoliberal capitalism, the gains are not re-invested in any new productive economy. The problem therefore is the economic system and the prevailing social contract, not the ongoing automation. But does that mean that we should just embrace automation. This seems to me a very dubious proposition. Technology and technological systems are areas of contention and conflict, and serve material interests. In my opinion, the shift towards sustainable and organic agriculture, which is absolutely vital to feed the world population (it is more productive that extractive industrial agriculture), and is also vital for soil restoration , carbon sequestration and hence reversing climate change. It is highly doubtful that such a transformation requires anything as simplistic as full automation. It does require automation, if that is what farmers desire, that is entirely subsumed to the goals of the organic farmer. What they need is ‘appropriate technology’, with human participation in its design and deployment. So the ‘p2p’ approach is one that combines technological development by open productive communities who share their knowledge, freely appropriate by local communities and entities which embody these technologies in their context. refusing them if necessary. I am far from certain that in truly democratic societies, there will be the same push for full automation than under contemporary capitalism, where it is motivated by the desire to obtain more productivity for gain. Can the dream of the commoners, really be the same as the dream of capital, which is to free itself from labor entirely ? In peer production, where work is driven by intrinsic motivation and passion, work may precisely not be seen as a drudgery to be liberated from.


Finally, we must briefly discuss the basic income. I am in favour of the basic income, but also see grave difficulties. First, there is the danger of considering it as a magic mantra, that will solve everything, while concretely, we do not have and it may be unlikely to achieve it. Secondly, the basic income leaves untouched the remaining logic of the commercial and extractive economy, but precisely because it takes away labor as a commodity, it may be unpalatable as a reform measure. Let us not be misled by the current basic income experiments slated in the Netherlands and Finland, which appear first and foremost as projects to eliminate the welfare state. 800 Euro does not even cover rental needs in a country like Finland.

What is seems to be in the end, is that the combined demand for full automation and the basic income, functions as an utopia, and while utopias are very useful to free the mind and the desires and show possibilities, they are also dangerous. They appear to be a political program to unite a variety of forces, who win power and then, afterwards, can start changing things. But what if we do not gain power this way ?

At the P2P Foundation, we see that a bit differently. The first task is to create prefigurative livelihoods which actually embody different post-capitalist logics, and to build social and political forces around this concrete transformative change. The Commons Transition Plan outlines some of the proposals we see emerging for a transition program for future political majorities. This is something that Paul Mason, who does not follow the emergence of these productive communities and their ethical entrepreneurial coalitions as closely as we do, nevertheless clearly sees in his book.

Readers of Inventing the Future are welcome to tell us what part of peer to peer dynamics and commons development are part of their story. And of course, I promise to read the book soon-ish and not to have misinterpreted too many things in this critique.

It is of course not a question to seek to place ourselves in opposition to Accelerationism, but simply to clarify some of the differences in the underlying approach. Technology obviously plays a big role in our approach. We believe that the technological basis of commons-based peer production, the capacity to share knowledge universally and globally, to create a knowledge-intensive mode of production with the knowledge embodied in the machines (as the designs are in 3D printing), around global platforms for sustainable living and production, will be a key to a free, fair and sustainable world. In that sense to productively marry technological possibilities with new forms of social and productive organisation, we may well be aligned with the accelerationists."


Towards a progressive response to automation

Progressive Science Institute:

"In the developed world, many of these outcomes are already manifesting themselves, especially: the increased precarity of work; the transformation of higher education institutions to become solely job-training centres; and the increase in incarceration of the poor. This paints a very grim picture of the future, but it is important to realise that these outcomes are not inevitable. In fact, the same trends in technological automation can be harnessed for progressive causes and for bettering the lot of people across the globe.

This is discussed in the rest of the book when Srnicek and Williams go on to argue that progressives of all stripes can seize this moment. While technology is increasingly acting to disrupt societal norms, it can be used also to challenge, disrupt and replace the current hegemony of neoliberalism. In order to make this a reality they argue that progressives must demand certain concessions from government and push for a change in society’s attitude to work. These can be summarised thus:

– Demand and push for a fully automated economy.

– Reduce the length of the working week with no cut in pay.

– Demand the introduction of a Universal Basic Income that supplements, not replaces, the welfare state.

– Move towards the diminishment of the work ethic, which permeates society and treats those to do not work as ‘feckless’, ‘lazy’ or at its worst, sub-human.

The authors argue that these deceptively simple demands push at the limits of what is conceivable within the current window of allowed political thought and will act to accelerate the replacement of our current economic and social system with a new, far more progressive one. It is important to stress here that Srnicek and Williams’ thesis is not one which supports the current trends of automation. As it stands, automation combined with a huge global labour supply, means that companies can increasingly decrease the number of jobs available, thus encouraging intense competition for work and pushing down wages substantially (zero hours contracts are a prime example). The corporations which own the technology are therefore making the labour market ever more ‘slack’, benefitting their bottom line substantially. Srnicek and Williams argue that if we can enact the four demands above, then the power dynamics between labour and capital fundamentally change. The universal basic income (at a high level and on top of current benefits) will mean people need not compete so intensely for what jobs there are, the sharing of work through the diminishment of the working week acting likewise. This therefore means that with increased automation the labour market actually becomes ‘tighter’, so there is more jobs going than people competing for them (as most will not need to work) therefore increasing labour’s bargaining power against capital and driving up wages for what few jobs there are. The diminishment of the work ethic further enhances this trend such that as we reach full automation (really 47-80% of all jobs as stated above) the power dynamics have been completely turned on their head and those with capital no longer have the power to wantonly exploit working people. This is automation, but not as we know it currently.

On the whole I agree with Srnicek and Williams’ analyses and believe that their proposed demands are both achievable and desirable, and I would encourage readers to read their book. Automation is already happening, so pushing to accelerate this trend is very achievable. Governments are already considering implementing UBI’s, so applying pressure to ensure this is done in a way which simply does not replace the welfare system is possible. A cut in the working week without a cut in pay can very likely be touted as a cross-political spectrum stop-gap to distribute and save what employment opportunities we can whilst machines increasingly take over the labour market. And finally, the diminishment of the work ethic, although difficult in a society riddled with right-wing demonisation of the (working and non-working) poor, may become increasingly likely as more and more people across traditional class divides find themselves out of work due to automation.

The problem comes in concretely defining what fully replaces neoliberal capitalism, rather than simply highlighting the fronts to push on to permanently weaken it (t­­­he four points above). Srnicek and Williams, like Paul Mason before them in “Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future” [9], fall into the trap of promulgating heavy critiques of now while not offering a fully formed view of the future they want to see. To give credit where credit is due, Srnicek and Williams do a better job than other literature I have read in identifying the next steps progressives should take in order to create a ‘brave new world’, even if they do not give a view of the ultimate destination. To tackle this point, in a future article I will discuss the possibilities of what a “postcapitalist” economic system could look like. For now, however, I have hopefully made the case that the four points expounded by Srnicek and Williams above, when pursued in tandem, can constitute a progressive response to increased automation." (http://progressivescience.org/index.php/2017/02/11/data-is-not-neutral-how-powerful-interests-are-shaping-21st-century-technology-and-robots-not-immigrants-are-taking-your-job/)