Bella Interview with Paul Mason

We interviewed Paul Mason the day he came to the Edinburgh Book Festival about his book Post Capitalism: a Guide to Your Future and his observations about European politics, Greggs, technology, the indyref and meltdown and opportunities…

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  1. John McLeod says:

    Really great. Thanks. I read his book, but this interview brings his ideas to life in a new way.

  2. Douglas says:

    I really like Paul Mason, he’s a top guy, but I really don’t understand what he is saying…

    Why would free information be a good thing? Since when? What it does is put writers, journalists and thinkers out of work….we’re all the precariat now….

    …and let’s put Paul’s theory to the test. Go into project Gutenberg and check out how many people have downloaded “The Wealth of Nations”. In fact, don’t bother, I have the answer: 2479….that is not a lot of people…

    Why do the bonnie lassies of Kirkaldy no ken who Adam Smith was? Because they are schooled to be the willing slaves of capital, Paul.

    Capital has no interest in your society of the future….capital is interested in the bottom line. All our institutions are designed to serve capital, not least our educations system.

    Can you convince capital to reform as Paul seems to think? That’s what the post war settlement was. Capital – that barbarian – had unleashed two bloodbaths in Europe in 30 years costing hundreds of millions of lives, and realized that if it didn’t change, it would self-destroy.

    I like Paul’s optimism, and he’s right that the answers don’t lie in the discourse of the old left, at least to some extent, but it’s capital you have to tackle….a society which promotes greed as its number one virtue is doomed to self-destruct.

    Politicians, much less people who play the stock-market, don’t read books, they have no interest in the past…so we are back to the 30’s…a kind of parody of the 30’s….as Marx said, “Hegel noted that all great historical events repeat themselves. He forgot to add, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce”…

    …what we have right now in Europe is a complete farce of democracy….

      1. Douglas says:

        No, Bella…negative….

        Good interview though: well done.

    1. Ronnie says:

      A very informative interview, thank you. I also saw and read the extended video and synopsis on the Guardian online.
      Douglas ‘s observations are very valid – the capitalist establishment is both ruthless and powerful and probably as rational as the suicide bomber if it perceived Scotland seriously open to the kind of future strategy Paul is contemplating here.
      The infantry of capitalism is private money to fund disruption; its heavy weaponry is controlling the money system itself. Paul makes a point of this and Scotland, or any other country aspiring to real independence will have to take complete charge of its Monetary Policy if it is ever to start on this kind of journey. By doing so we at least neutralise the enemy within if not elsewhere.
      Only then can we look to these new horizons.

  3. Douglas says:

    Here is Chomsky on Adam Smith, who relates how completely traduced has been by the neo-liberal barbarians/morons….

    1. Alan says:

      I’m not sure Chomsky gets Adam Smith’s use of the invisible hand metaphor quite right but it’s a video so one shouldn’t expect too much. For a more detailed argument see Meeropol’s Neo-Liberal Distortion of Adam Smith: The Case Of The “Invisible Hand”.

      Jumping into Wealth or Moral Sentiments without some help and guidance is no easy task and a lot of what is written and said about Smith is complete garbage, including what is taught as gospel by most economists. Neoclassical economists and neoliberals make ideological use of Smith. One should be very skeptical of their claims of continuity and kinship with the Scottish enlightenment. Most of the stuff you see quoted and cited is taken out of its 18th C. context and the context of the overall argument in Wealth. For reliable guidance a good place to start reading is the modern Smith scholarship literature. I would suggest Evensky’s new book that walks readers through Wealth book by book, chapter by chapter. He also has an earlier book which I’m guessing is worth reading but which I haven’t read. There’s also Fleischacker’s book, which has an excellent guide at the beginning on how to read Smith.  Also, while Wealth is available for free online from various sources, the Glasgow Edition tends to be the edition used by Smith scholars and cited in their works.

        1. John S Warren says:

          Delighted to see the rich seam of sources on Adam Smith provided above, and the crisp synopsis. Neo-liberalism has misrepresented Smith for decades and quite cynically manipulated his thought for narrow ideological purposes; simply, Neo-liberalism sought to hide the intellectual vacuity of neo-liberal thought behind the name and prestige of the founder of ‘economics’, but over the next few years we will see the deconstruction of this neo-liberal piffle, and I suspect the spectacular crash of reputations under a decisive pincer-movement between the work of intellectual historians and Modern Monetary Theory. The Credit Crunch first exposed Neo-liberalism’s phoney intellectual credibility and we should not forget now the prophet who never wavered in his understanding of the disaster for everyone that Neo-liberalism and its funders represented: the prophetic Hyman Minsky.

          We should also note here the importance of Adam Ferguson ‘Essay on the History of Civil Society'(1767), as a powerful counterweight to Smith’s occasional over-optimism about the effects of markets, and for Ferguson’s profound insight into human and social psychology and his own prophetic sociological insight into the negative and often destructive effects of economics on people (he is considered by some historians to be the father of sociology).

  4. Douglas says:

    I mean, Chomsky is right…what we have is state capitalism….there are two battle fronts…the State and Capital…the fight against Capital is winnable maybe piecemeal fashion…case by case….but the fight against the State…that seems very hard to win…

    …the British State is today responsible for the deaths of thousands of welfare claimants. It is responsible for hundreds of thousands of lives in Iraq and Afghanistan…yet the British State – and all of its apparatus – not least, the BBC – carries on with complete impunity….

    How to get some control on the people who run the nefarious, ruthless and brutal British State? No amount of free information can do that….

    1. james cormack says:

      Actually, I would also blame Saddam Hussein, The Taliban, Al Qaeda, Iran and its proxy, Hezbollah, Assad and his thugs for the hundreds of thousands of the deaths in the Middle East. It’s not all our fault.

      1. Douglas says:

        Saddam Hussein was funded and sponsored and armed by the USA and the UK as a bulwark against the Ayatollahs of Iran, leading to a war which one millions lives.

        The Iranian Revolution in turn had come about because the British and Americans had ousted the former democratic regime in Iran and imposed The Shah….

        The Taliban/Mujahadeen were originally funded by the CIA to fight the Soviets.

        I’m hardly a fan of Hezbollah, but there have been few acts of destruction as devastating in recent times as those carried out in Lebanon and Palestine by the state of Israel.

        See Robert Fisk’s “The Great War for Civilization”….

  5. Kevin Williamson says:

    Enjoyed the interview Mike. Nice one. Lots in there to think about. I hope more on the left read Paul’s book from cover to cover – as Alex Salmond said he did yesterday – before engaging with ideas in. These are BIG and IMPORTANT ideas and need to be engaged with first hand rather than through reviews or second hand interpretations.

    Over the weekend, at the Edinburgh Book Festival in Edinburgh, I was lucky enough to hear Paul in conversation with Alex Salmond and thought he was inspiring. To be fair to Alex he engaged with some of the central ideas in Postcapitalism and asked challenging questions. It was a high quality political debate of the likes you rarely see on TV.

    At the Book Festival event yesterday I met writers such as Irvine Welsh, Chris Brookmyre, Andy Wightman, Ken McLeod. Left thinkers are engaging with this political and economic manifesto in a way few authors have managed to provoke. Hope the conversation continues. Maybe Bella could host local study groups or conversations around Postcapitalism?


    1. Kevin Williamson says:

      Is there an edit function for these Comments!!

  6. Mike Fenwick says:

    A couple of days ago, I passed Mike Small a copy of an e-mail to me from the Scottish Government.

    It was an acknowledgment to an e-mail I sent to them asking that the Council of Economic Advisers be asked to consider work being pursued by Positive Money (and others) which very much relates to some of the comments made by Paul Mason over forming a Monetary Policy.

    At the referendum, the choice of which currency to adopt was debated, it still is on ongoing debate – but is that debate at far too superficial a level?

    When today you witness the effects on you, and those around you, and those around the world (think Greece) of the financial crisis – did it matter what currency was in use – or was it something far more fundamental?

    What precisely was, and is the cause of austerity? Why was there a financial crisis? Was it the wrong choice of currency? Is it, was it, that simple?

    When you discover that the coins and notes issued by the Bank of England make up just 3% of the money in circulation in the UK – does that point theway?

    Or is it that the remaining 97% is created by Banks when they provide us with loans.

    Perhaps it is the levels of debt that the Banks create that figures larger, than the currency that the debts are denominated in.

    Ironically, perhaps, as Paul Mason would recognise, such debt (money) is issued electronically – out of nothing, at the cost of nothing. Equally ironically perhaps, it is the commodity Paul Mason espouses in many ways – information. Except in this instance it is levels of debt stored as information – ever think that the Banks were already practising what Paul is preaching?

    Try this video:

    And maybe you will agree that Paul Mason is 100% correct – understanding and formulating a Monetary Policy is crucial, and it goes well beyond the choice of currency.

    The fundamental change when formulating a Monetary policy, if we are to avoid further financial crises, may involve nationalising the ability to create money. It is at that more fundamental level that I believe the debate is needed.

    That essentially is what I have asked the Scottish Government to ask of the Council of Economic Advisers.

    If, and I suspect it may be an if, I receive a further response from the Scottish Government I will report the details.

    1. scottieDog says:

      Absolutely, having your own sovereign monetary policy is crucial. In the lead up to indyref we were told that by using the pound we would be heavily fiscally constrained which is true. However the second part of that proposition is that a govt with its own own sovereign fiat currency cannot default.

      1. Mike Fenwick says:

        ScottieDog … thank you for that link, just watched it, I would make a few comments.

        1) – One of my reasons for asking the Scottish Government to ask the Council of Economic Advisers (CoEA) to consider and comment on the ideas behind Modern Money theory (as it would apply to a Scotland moving to independence – but before it secures it), is that Joseph Stiglitz is one of the members on CoEA, and as you know he and Paul Krugman are referred to in that video – as being on the edge of MM Theory. Stiglitz was also on the working party for the Fiscal Commission.

        In its report, the Fiscal Commission offered us 4 options to consider re a currency:

        Sterling; The Euro; A Scottish currency pegged to Sterling; and, A flexible Scottish currency.

        And concluded:

        “commends to the Scottish Government retaining Sterling as part of a formal monetary union, and believes that this provides a strong overarching framework for Scotland post-independence. ”

        Ignore for a moment my own personal opinions on that conclusion, and indeed ignore Gideon saying it won’t happen – what for me is missing is an open democratic debate on the restraints and difficulties that “commended” choice creates – as compared with – establishing a Scottish Sovereign Currency.

        The video you provided is more than sufficient to justify that debate.

        Back to why I used “If” in my final paragraph – what are the odds on the Scottish Government responding positively to me just appearing in their e-mail box with a request? Low, I would say, but you never know.

        2) – Both Argentina and Greece are mentioned in that video – and illustrate the problems they have both encountered because they did not have a Sovereign Currency – retaining Sterling places an independent Scotland in the same position as Greece.

        Is that what you would choose, having witnessed only recently what happened in Greece (a referendum which said NO to austerity and yet!) – are we sure we wish to choose to follow a path that may one day place us in an identical position, either adopting Sterling as was recommended, or indeed adopting the Euro?

        Maybe, in the end, it depends on what value you place on democracy, and the price you are willing to pay to lose your freedom.

        1. ScottieDog says:

          Thanks Mike,
          I think I might be appearing in their inbox soon. The more the better!

  7. My Cocaine says:

    Like many a commentator, and their numbers are legion, Paul Mason falls into the trap of thinking capitalism is the problem, when in fact, it’s the absence of capitalism that has caused many of our current woes.

    For example, capitalism could have prevented billions of pounds being thrown at bank bailouts, if the banks had been allowed to collapse. New banks would have sprung up to fill the void, because capitalism does not reward failure, and the billions wasted could have been put to better use.

    Instead, the parasitical relationship between government and private enterprise, where the government picks up the tab, ensured that the bankers literally laughed all the way to the bank.

    For all the talk of private enterprise in the UK, it’s amazing how much the government subsidises industries such as rail, energy, agriculture and housing.

    How better would the housing market be in this country if BTL landlords weren’t subsidised by rent payers claiming housing benefit?

    We need more capitalism, not less. We spend billions rewarding failure and propping up industry that should have collapsed long ago.

    1. J Mac says:

      What annoys me about anti capitalist (not necessarily just pointing out the unfairness and extremes of turbo capitalism and constant market creation) is that they tend to be rich westerners.

      Seems a bit unfair to the billions in the developing world who are or just have been raised out of abject ignorance and poverty by the free market to say to them they can no longer do so cos the westeners no longer like it?

      I mean imagine a middle aged Vietnamese or Chinese living in a decent apartment with plenty to eat and an Iphone, whose family members starved to death within living memory through collectivisation, localism (closed markets) and central state production to not trade?

    2. Don bradley says:

      It reminds me of the comment of a 14yr old Russian schoolgirl, on TV, when the USSR imploded.
      She said “we are in a phase of transition between the communism we never had, and the capitalism were never going to get “.
      It’s stuck in my mind all these years.

  8. J Mac says:

    The whole networked economy that Paul Mason goes on about is essentially civil society/ human economic ecology meeting and catching up with globalised capital and means of production.

    e.g) a computer is produced in multiple locations if you break down the hierarchy of services and raw materials. Copper from Oz produced by a Brazilian mining company using american plant equipment then shipped by Norwegian owned vessel built in Singapore crewed by Phillippinos to China where in one province they produce the semi conductors and in another assemble the laptop then ship it by Greek owned, S Korean built ship using BP sourced oil to a warehouse in Holland where the US designed software is produced and installed, then shipped by the french owned tech sales website to a guy in Dundee who wants to play Dundee designed but Chinese produced and pirated grand theft auto.

    It’s hard to see how a nationalist agenda (the networked econ will necessarily undermine borders more and more.) can accomodate this? Surely Govt and reg needs now to follow and be supra national?

    And here in lies the real class division – not the tired old left (yawn) statist kind that bleets on about the working class as though people still work in an industrial society – This being those who can network and can ride globalisation (have the transferable skills and education) and those who don’t are left behind. Whether they live on an estate in Manchester or a rice field in Cambodia. They are not the new upper class of socially and transnationally mobile class of certain industries. David Beckham is the extreme icon of this new class.

    1. J Mac says:

      Would be interested in how Nationalists and localists see this? How this networked economy concludes in nationalism and local production? Seems problematic.

  9. Justin Kenrick says:

    Excellent creative thinking -the kind of interview that demands you step out of your ideological comfort zone and rethink how the world works and how we can make it work so much better than the failed alternatives the mainstream presents to us.

    I love the bit about his Aunt and the Care Home and the piece immediately following it (from 32:20) . .

    “But of course we have States, massive States of 250 million people – the EuroZone, America, China, India. Governments can do democratic things. . . . In the transition to post capitalism that I’m advocating, Governments have to do things.

    “In the long term they have to abolish themselves economically as well as politically, but in the short term it is about clearing the space for what is spontaneously going on.”

    1. Kevin Williamson says:

      “In the long term they have to abolish themselves economically as well as politically, but in the short term it is about clearing the space for what is spontaneously going on.”

      That was a key idea for me too Justin. Many new networked postcapitalist enterprises have already already emerged here in Scotland. These new enterprises need space to succeed yes but also an understanding of where they fit into Scotland’s sustainable economy and social fabric.

      They don’t always fall into easy categorisation either. The idea of two easy fit enterprise labels – publicly-owned or capitalist – wont be enough.

      This also raises the question how does the Scottish Government move from being an agent primarily for prolonging the status quo of private enterprise to one which whose primary economic role includes clearing the space necessary for the new postcapitalist enterprises to emerge and thrive.

      These are interesting ideas, big ideas, without single definitive answers.

      1. douglas clark says:

        Could you direct me to some source material about these post-capitalist enterprises. It sounds the sort of thing I would like to read about.


  10. Grant Buttars says:

    I’m very excited by Mason’s ideas. It may be that his conclusions are not all entirely correct but the fresh thinking is essential to the debate. The intellectual conservatism of some of the old left can be very heavy around our necks.

  11. douglas clark says:

    Thanks for that.

    What is fascinating is where his thoughts lead. He mentions gamers in an interesting way, the idea that you have to adapt within a game to different scenarios. What might have worked doesn’t work no more, so the strategy has to alter. All of that is true, but there are also huge communities of gamers that have to join together to achieve an objective. We group up, we fight together and most times we lose. But sometimes we break through and win. Surprisingly enough the people behind the avatars come from all over, Germany, Holland, England and little old me. If you win, or lose honourably, as a group, you tend to make human contact with these people. They are not foreign or alien. They are your friends. Many of them are extremely generous and put up with your personal failures. Apart from the competitive nature of gaming there is also a collaborative and social aspect.

    I would argue that borders become less relevant the more you meet people with a common desire to destroy pixels on a screen. I think that Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games ( MMORPG – you too can be part of the jargon) may be capable of bringing lots of folk together.

    Perhaps, even, to the extent that I don’t want a nuclear weapon pointed at my dwarf-playing chum in Russia.

  12. Ronnie Morrison says:

    For most people – and it is most people you need to convince if you are seeking change at government level, it is hard to sell post-capitalism when the word capitalism itself is so poorly understood. The first step towards Paul Mason’s better society is to clarify the difference between Financial Capitalism (which is what drives the “West” at present) and Capitalism which is essentially private enterprise as opposed to Communism.
    Financial capitalism is synonymous with financial feudalism – i.e. the State exists as a mechanism to maintain a regime of law and order which rejects any form of government control or regulation of a privately owned monetary system. That system has only one priority, that of enriching its participants and externalising all the costs of unintended consequences to the taxpayer.
    We may be on the verge of a cashless society now but that does not mean an end to money – it simply means that the State finally bows out of its last connection to our money system and the banks and financial markets take 100% control.
    That is financial capitalism and it will destroy both private and public enterprise unless “most people” start taking an interest in what is happening to their society.

  13. Wul says:

    It seems to me that it is wildly unregulated and sociopathic capitalism that is the problem, rather than capitalism itself. I definitely want to live in a country where I am free make money from my good ideas and my sweat.
    I wonder if two “evils” which contribute to the failure of our society are the ability to instantly trade shares in companies without responsibility and the ability of companies to become “legal personalities” i.e. become people, without any responsibility resting with the directors of that company.
    If we reward activities which produce no useful product or service and reward actions which destroy our environment, surely that can’t lead to any long-term good?

  14. Alan says:

    I don’t understand Bella’s infatuation with Mason. I read some of the reviews of his book, read the Kindle sample and have watched some of the various videos. That was more than enough to persuade me that my time was better invested elsewhere. In the intro he talks about ditching neoliberalism being the “easy part”. But he doesn’t seem to have a very good understanding of neoliberalism. And then, as best as I can tell, the plot involves some post-capitalist social utopia based on information technology emerging. People were pitching this at the beginning of the Internet revolution and it was thoroughly debunked almost as quickly.

    A lot of the Leftist stuff Bella has been trotting out recently is decades past its sell-by date. If you want to read something a little fresher try some Mirowski. He’s not everyone’s cup of tea but he knows his stuff and offers a detailed analysis of neoliberalism, its contradictions, and an explanation of why the Left has been largely clueless and ineffectual at mounting resistance. Will Davies is also worth reading. He has a book (which I haven’t read yet) but there are lots of shorter writings on the web that are thoughtful. See for example Neoliberalism and the revenge of the “social” and an interesting response here.

    1. We’ve been ‘trotting out’ ‘leftist stuff’ since 2007 : )

    2. Mike Fenwick says:

      Elsewhere on Bella I made comments not having bought and read the book – I have now done so.

      Yes, for me there are areas where I question what is being said, but is that not something we all fall prey to – the all too human reaction to appreciate the answers that best match one’s own preconceived bias and experience – thus – Left and Right reactions to whatever?

      Again, for me, that reaction and my own prejudices misses the main point of what Paul Mason is driving at.

      What proved important to me having read the book is that it is primarily an invitation, an invitation to experiment, at a time of transition – one which undoubtedly relates to technology, to climate change and to clear signs of wealth disparity.

      I quote this one extract, as an example of that invitation:

      “I’ve tried to make this project usable both by people who see states as useful and those who don’t, you could model an anarchist version and a statist version and try them out. There is probably even a conservative version of post-capitalism, and good luck to it”

      Scotland is in the midst of such transition, and we should accept the invitation Paul Mason provides – what better place, and what better time to experiment?

      His book carries the strap line – “A Guide to our Future”, maybe it is, maybe it isn’t – maybe we in Scotland, here and now, should find out!

      1. Alan says:

        There are real and urgent problems. All the more reason to pass on an invitation to experiment from someone tossing around terms like neoliberalism and pitching the realization of a utopian socialist project through info-tech.

    3. Frank says:

      Good point Alan. Paul Mason was given a relatively easy time by the interviewer, who didn’t get into the meat of the argument in my opinion. But what Mason did say was relatively ‘run of the mill’ and often confusing – and not in a good way.

      I haven’t read the book, but the left needs to engage in a serious engagement with neoliberalism, not just at the level of political critique, but in a way which understands how neoliberalism has constructed new subjectivities, e.g. human beings constructing their lives in terms of human capital, and how it has marketised the social state, witness the obsession with managerialism, contracting out, the corporatisation of the voluntary sector, etc.

      1. Alan says:

        Exactly. A good place to start for those who want to try something other than toss around terms like ‘neoliberalism’ and ‘capitalism’ is Flew’s Six Theories of Neoliberalism

  15. Peter Clive says:

    Thanks for this interview, I was prompted by Paul’s recent work to pen the following

  16. Peter Clive says:

    Although more on topic would be the way environmental degradation will compel us to adopt sustainable post-capitalist de-carbonised circular economics …

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