Cities Can Carry Us Beyond Capitalism


Ania Mendrek | Flickr

We’ll figure out how to share technology’s bounty in cities. The British writer Paul Mason has a useful framework for talking about the impact of technology on the global economy. There’s a book-length version, but you can get the outline pretty quickly from this recent talk Mason gave (Medium): Technology today is driving costs for many informational goods to zero, while automating tons of jobs. This could trap us in a “stagnant neo-feudalism,” desperately creating “bullshit jobs” if we don’t change course. Under the rubric of “post-capitalism,” Mason proposes that we instead embrace the collaborative power tech unleashes and use it to move beyond the now-inadequate profit-driven economy. Post-capitalism means actively promoting this platform-cooperativist future, and cities are the best place for that. Unlike whole nations, they’re the right scale for experiments with basic income pans, data-driven decision-making models for public affairs, and broader efforts at liberating data from private silos. It’s the old software-world argument between open-source and proprietary systems, transposed into the realm of urban policy. Mason thinks Barcelona might be a good place to start.

And now for something completely different. Shell-shocked by last night’s debate? Take a sanity break with President Obama’s essay on the economic challenges that will confront his successor (The Economist). Trumpism and Brexit are driven partly by nativist fears but also by more legitimate concerns about inequality, Obama writes. If we’re going to make headway in that realm, we need to shed our allergy to tax-supported public projects, invest in education, enforce trade rules, and respond to climate change. “We have a choice,” he says: “Retreat into old, closed-off economies or press forward, acknowledging the inequality that can come with globalization while committing ourselves to making the global economy work better for all people, not just those at the top.” If the depths of the 2016 campaign have left you dejected, remember that for the next several months at least, the White House still has an occupant who can think and write about what matters.

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