Center for a Stateless Society
A Left Market Anarchist Think Tank & Media Center
Areas of commonality — Techno-Utopianism, Counterfeit and Real

Download a PDF copy of Kevin Carson’s full C4SS Study: Center for a Stateless Society Paper No. 20 (Spring 2016)

Techno-Utopianism, Counterfeit and Real (With Special Regard to Paul Mason’s Post-Capitalism)

I. Capitalist Techno-Utopianism from Daniel Bell On
II. Categories of Leftist Techno-Utopianism
III. Other Non-Capitalist Techno-Utopianisms

John Holloway
Michel Bauwens
Accelerationism

IV. Analysis: Comparison of the Two Strands of Techno-Utopianism

Areas of commonality

V. Paul Mason
VI. Left-Wing Critiques of Mason

Stephanie McMillan
Kate Aronoff

Conclusion

My comments on the counterfeit nature of neoliberal techno-utopianism are not meant to suggest that all liberal or free market thought that deals with post-scarcity is a sham. Even the left wing of conventional American-style libertarianism has some areas of commonality with left-wing techno-utopianism, and in some cases overlaps with it.

The classical liberal Frédéric Bastiat, in Chapter 8 (“Private Property and Common Wealth”) of his 1850 book Economic Harmonies, described the socialization of wealth (“real wealth constantly passing from the domain of private property into the communal domain”) in language very like Marx’s discussion of “General Intellect” in the “Fragment on Machines”:

And so, as I have already said many times and shall doubtless say many times more (for it is the greatest, the most admirable, and perhaps the most misunderstood of all the social harmonies, since it encompasses all the others), it is characteristic of progress (and, indeed, this is what we mean by progress) to transform onerous utility into gratuitous utility; to decrease value without decreasing utility; and to enable all men, for fewer pains or at smaller cost, to obtain the same satisfactions. Thus, the total number of things owned in common is constantly increased; and their enjoyment, distributed more uniformly to all, gradually eliminates inequalities resulting from differences in the amount of property owned. …

The goal of all men, in all their activities, is to reduce the amount of effort in relation to the end desired and, in order to accomplish this end, to incorporate in their labor a constantly increasing proportion of the forces of Nature. … They invent tools or machines, they enlist the chemical and mechanical forces of the elements, they divide their labors, and they unite their efforts. How to do more with less, is the eternal question asked in all times, in all places, in all situations, in all things. …

The gratuitous co-operation of Nature has been progressively added to our own efforts. …

A greater amount of gratuitous utility implies a partial realization of common ownership. [94]

The reason is that market competition socializes the benefits of technological progress, absent artificial property rights like patents that enable capitalists to enclose them as private rents. So technological progress is radically deflationary, and causes more and more areas of economic life to vanish from the cash nexus into the social or p2p economy.

There’s also a great deal of overlap between classical liberal or libertarian treatments of the knowledge problem, and anarchist or libertarian socialist critiques of hierarchy. Friedrich Hayek’s criticism of central planning in “The Use of Knowledge in Society,” based on distributed knowledge, is also applicable to knowledge problems within corporate managerial hierarchies. And it coincides to a large extent to James Scott’s intellectual framework in Seeing Like a State, in which he talks about the “legibility” and “opacity” of society to state and capitalist hierarchies and attempts by such hierarchies to render production processes and society itself legible by suppressing metis (roughly equivalent to tacit knowledge).

The Austrian economist David Prychitko, in Marxism and Self-Management, uses both Hayek’s treatment of the knowledge problem and principal/agent problems to argue for the superior efficiency of self-managed firms in a free market. Meanwhile libertarian Marxist Chris Dillow, at Stumbling and Mumbling blog, who focuses on the evils of managerialism and the cognitive problems of hierarchies, argues for a model of socialism based on a combination of free markets, self-management, peer-production networks and non-bureaucratic welfare state measures like a Basic Income.

Notes:

94. Quoted in Sheldon Richman, “Bastiat on the Socialization of Wealth,” Center for a Stateless Society, March 23, 2013 <https://c4ss.org/content/17835>.

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