Monday, 25 January 2010

Review of 'Capitalist Realism' by Mark Fisher

This is a great little book.

The Continental tradition in philosophy is still unparalleled in the resources it has to offer theorists attempting to characterize contemporary society. The angles of vision it can provide, the theoretical models, the sentiments for the expression of which it provides concepts – in the right hands this is powerful stock, accumulated through a century of reflection.

Fisher, with skill, employs this body of Theory to open up and understand the machine, and there is enough in the way of observation and concentrated thought, that one is not left merely hanging onto a bag of untamed abstract nouns.

Capitalist Realism itself, is basically the cultural condition in which, with Marx, we stare with clear eyes at “naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation” (4) but yet...keep calm and carry on. We are not unmoved exactly; but yet still we do nothing. The details of why and how, and the ramifications in various domains, are the object of the book.

On any of the areas he touches, abstract or concrete, Fisher is illuminating. For example, take the 3-second time-consciousness peculiar to our popular sphere. The economic necessity to reduce everything to purely quantitative relationships engenders this attitude, because future and past loose their particularity, becoming mere versions of the present, identical in quality. This becomes a general mode of relating to the world, of ‘enframing’ it, in Heidegger’s language. We are merely “going forward” into Q2, Q3, Q4... But, the future is the realm through which we imagine that things might be different, and the past is where we see how they were different. And so “it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism” (2). (Incidentally, it becomes apparent, through such examples, how legion and subtle would be the alterations effected upon deep cognitive features, by the turn to Angel Economics, in which there is no such need to render everything quantitatively commensurable).

But aside from metaphysics, Fisher can cast light on many more prosaic matters. For example, he was an adult educator, and paints a portrait of British youth that is striking, arresting, and depressingly familiar. Generally, the book bristles with insights

Its slight defect is its journalistic “we”; or, in other terms, the tendency - common to Continental philosophy - to see the structures it identifies as universal, inescapable, brooking no exception. It is the over-extension of Concepts. Adorno used exaggeration as a literary-cognitive device, and that’s OK, but one has to remain in control.

Take this: “For most people under twenty in Europe and North America, the lack of alternatives to capitalism is no longer even an issue” (8). To some degree this is true. However, a closer look would reveal that throughout this stratum, within numerous subgroups - each in their different ways - there are explorations taking place of ways of doing things which go beyond capitalism. Most do not explicitly or self-consciously see things in those terms of course – to provide that awareness of the wider context and meaning, is the role of a movement (see below). But still. Thriving knitting groups; shared amateur photography (with a high degree of editing skill and artistic vision); open-source software; filesharing (the engine for this comes from the young, and many take this source of acquiring data simply as axiomatic); all sorts of geeky DIY, from biotechnology, pharmacology, permaculture, health analysis and augmentation, robotics; binraiding (shops throw out great stuff); swapping and ‘freecycling’ consumer goods; etc etc. There is a homebrew industrial revolution, and the young are often on its leading edge.

Consider another example, about the commodification and incorporation of opposition. Fisher coins a great word, “precorporation”: “the pre-emptive formatting and shaping of desires, aspirations and hopes by capitalist culture.” (9) Everyone would be able to adduce their own examples of this. Fisher gives the paradigmatic case of Kurt Cobain. He knew not just that his expression of opposition was a mere commodity; the self-consciousness of this situation was also part of that product. And further iterations of the relation (self-consciousness of self-consciousness of opposition being commodified) do not change the basic situation, so there is an impasse.

Furthermore, as is its general mode of operation, capitalism does not merely appropriate but actually sets about producing cultural artifacts with pre-packed anti-capitalism in them. Taking a recent example, Fisher notes that “[a] film like Wall-E exemplifies what Robert Pfaller has called ‘interpassivity’: the film performs our anti-capitalism for us, allowing us to continue to consume with impunity” (12).

On the other hand, there are three basic points. First, it is self-evident that music (or any other art) on its own cannot itself bring about change to the basic socioeconomic and political order (even though, listening to many individuals talk about the popular cultural scene stretching from the late ‘60’s to the early ‘80’s, it becomes apparent that they actually thought this was the case). So how serious is such incorporation, really?

Second, putting it simplistically, there is always a kind of exaggeration, as well as a certain conceptual confusion, when it is said that this-or-that artwork is incorporated. It is an exaggeration because, I submit, there is a great deal, in a great deal of art, which is not merely reducible to and compromised by capitalistic relations, but which transcends them, and can inspire those receptive to it. While, it is a confusion, because such incorporation is often inferred from the mere fact that the artwork is bought-and-sold, i.e. is a commodity in its economic form. I don’t say artworks are unaffected by their being commodities; but there is a distinction between use-value and exchange-value.

Third, and more importantly, all it would take for artistic works to become un-commodifiable in a stronger sense, would be the existence of a genuine anticapitalist political movement to which they could attach themselves. If there were such a movement which threatened capital, and it was generally known that some work expressed its aspirations, you can be sure it would become indigestible by MTV, the Wellcome Trust, or any other 400ft disembodied capitalist throat.

Putting this in other words: insofar as anti-capitalism is merely expressed or performed or displayed, it is not, truly, anti-capitalism. Fisher himself is perfectly clear and indeed very illuminating on this (indeed, it is the basic thesis of the book):

“Capitalist ideology in general, Zizeck maintains, consists precisely in the overvaluing of belief- in the sense of inner subjective attitude – at the expense of the beliefs we exhibit and externalize in our behaviour. So long as we believe (in our hearts) that capitalism is bad, we are free to continue to participate in capitalist exchange. According to Zizeck, capitalism in general relies on this structure of disavowal” (13).

(Pursuing this line, Fisher makes a telling critique of the anticapitalist movement which came to prominence in Seattle (and which still exists, in different forms): “[S]ince the form of its activities tended to be the staging of protests rather than political organization, there was a sense that the anti-capitalism movement consisted of making a series of hysterical demands which it didn’t expect to be met” (14) One would bridle at this kind of comment if it came from a lesser viewpoint. As it is, it is fortifyingly perceptive.)

The other criticism you might make of the book is linked, though different. It is not so much a failure to penetrate appearances – how could you say that of a work like this, which reads society’s dreams like a novel? - but that, qua purely cultural critique, there is a natural tendency to despondency because one cannot feel or see those longer-run economic processes which might change the game. Fisher is no doubt aware of the many classical Marxist graphs detailing the falling rate of profit over the last half century, noses pointing down (Brenner’s version below. The overlay from 1980 is from Goldman Sachs). These are telling us, with all the force of natural law, that things cannot stay the same. He is probably also aware of Ray Kurzweil’s very different graphs (e.g. below), equally game-changing (and which need now to be the prime focus of attention by people concerned with justice). But if he is aware of this work, this doesn’t show, and that’s a big deal, because it’s in these under-the-surface processes where capital’s realism really lies.


A defence Fisher could legitimately make is that (as against the first criticism) he is describing the broad mainstream, and (as against the second) that saying “Things Will Change” doesn’t help much. Fair enough. So what is to be done?

The short and glib answer is that a proper political movement needs to be constituted with the basic aim of fundamentally restructuring socioeconomic relations.

Fisher – who himself refers to the need for a “new (collective) political subject” (53) – knows this. Quite a few on the Left know this (especially if one lowers the threshold and allows them to know it ‘in their heart of hearts’). A vast number in the wider society know it. The real question is not so much the ‘what’ as the ‘how’.

Fisher makes a few tentative suggestions, alongside his basic call for the abandoning of gestures and spectacles. They are not so much definite strategic proposals, as contributions to delineating a basic attitude or stance.

(This is worthwhile. The hard Left is peculiar at the moment. Popular discontent with the social status quo runs extremely deep and wide, and, in fact, is even often very clear about the identity or cause of its problems, viz. capitalism. And yet the hard Left virtually never seems able to tap into this. A major part of the difficulty is, for want of a better word, the ‘image’ of that Left. But it is not a mere matter of re-marketing and re-branding. The image the hard Left has is broadly what it deserves. For it is not nearly expansive enough; it is not ambitious enough; it is not imaginative enough; its attitude towards strategy is consequently far too narrow. Setting out a few lines in the sand, in this circumstance, supplies useful orientation).

One thing Fisher suggests – after a line of argument to which it is impossible to do justice in a short summary – is an attitude towards culture, on the part of artists, which he (semi-playfully) embodies in the figure of the Marxist Supernanny. The focus-group-led market has delivered us the basest crassness, Fisher contends, because “...even when they generate commodities that are immensely popular, [it can’t be counted as a mark of success, for the reason that] people do not know what they want... [For] the most powerful forms of desire are precisely cravings for the strange, the unexpected, the weird” (76). He gives some examples of the experimentalism and quality that the post-war BBC was capable of producing, and presenting to a mass audience. Whilst one could haggle about the details of his interpretation of what lay behind this, the fundamental point stands firm.

Another suggestion, equally solid, is that we “...must convert widespread mental health problems from medicalized conditions into effective antagonisms. Affective disorders are forms of captured discontent; this disaffection can and must be channelled outwards, directed towards its real cause, Capital” (80). This, it should be said, is the conclusion to a penetrating analysis of the precise character of widespread contemporary mental health problems, and how they originate within features of our culture. No practical vehicle for executing this channelling-outwards is specified, but one can’t have everything. In any case, there are lots of motley projects around from which one could draw inspiration.

Another suggestion is a sort of strike-strategy for white-collar workers. Some of the strongest parts of the book are the analyses of bureaucracy (Kafka is the basic reference; Lacan deepens the probe). In a wonderful characterization, Fisher conceptualizes auditing – i.e. the basic means by which today’s excuse for Social Democracy proposes to humanise the market relations it establishes everywhere – as a fusion of PR and bureaucracy. “[T]he bureaucratic data is usually intended to fulfil a promotional role... [M]uch of the so-called information has little meaning or application outside the parameters of the audit: as Eeva Berglund puts it, ‘the information that audit so shorn of local detail, so abstract, as to be misleading or meaningless – except, that is, by the aesthetic criteria of audit itself” (50-1).

People carry on with this despite knowing its ridiculousness (that kind of attitude is also superbly analysed). Fisher, simply enough, calls for a mulish foot to be put down.

Other than this, there is a more general programmatic call. “...[T]he goal of a genuinely new left should not be to take over the state but to subordinate the state to the general will. This involves, naturally, resuscitating the very concept of a general will, reviving – and modernizing – the idea of a public space that is not reducible to an aggregation of individuals and their interests” (77).

Now, if that is to mean anything, then surely we have to speak (as said, above) about a political movement - in generously wide senses of those terms (“political” and “movement”), but not so wide as to be meaningless. (This might seem a contradiction, insofar as a political movement will of necessity express a particular will. But that is a fatuous criticism, beloved of so-called liberals, who fail to see that under capitalism the vast majority of people constitute the poor, the oppressed; that this position is actively created by elites; that therefore the contradiction is merely a scholastic label).

At the centre of such a movement needs to be the vision of the society it aims to bring into being. One aspect of that is its basic economic structure - Angel Economics is a contribution to figuring out what that might look like. Of course a society is much more than an economic structure. But in general terms I suggest that real progress can be made by theorists in all domains adopting the perspective from which Angel Economics is written, a perspective different from the currently-available (analysis of what is or what has been; practical policy for the rearrangement of what is; imagining what is not, but calling that ‘fiction’); and, with straight-out-bare-faced-naivety just sketching how things might be done. Angel Economics provides a general framework for some of these domains (workplace structure, the basic nature of social interaction, etc) which can make the task easier. Other domains are best conceived completely independently (see an interesting recent Rouge’s Foam post on 21st Century music for an idea).

The point is that you can be sure that a well-articulated vision, bubbling with proposals and ideas, many-organed, diverse in its make-up, uncompromising, generous in its life and spirit – such a vision would easily pull people out of their torpor, and all the cynicism and bitterness would give way. The reeds and mud hanging from Mr Swamp Monster can be removed, and he will buff himself up.

A vision alone is not sufficient, of course.

There is an important role for analysis. In developed, post-modern hyper-capitalist societies, the socio-cultural structure is exceedingly complex, and it would require a great backbone of forensic analysis in order for a movement to successfully navigate within it. Michael Hardt relates an amusing anecdote, where in discussion about political strategy with a South American friend of his, the latter suggested: “Why don’t you just go to the hills?” Although not on the same order, the myopia which affects the contemporary hard Left – with its pathetic electoral campaigns, and a Weekly Worker newspaper-based modus operandi taken straight out of Moscow 1905 – is of the same kind. The strategic failing is the consequence of a prior analytical failing, which ignores the general lifeworld that most people occupy. Fisher’s book is exemplary of the kind of edifying analysis required.

Vision and analysis – we are still only in the head. But there is no lack of potential constituencies and social tendencies, to form the actual walking meat. (I have detailed a few that come to mind [two thirds down this review of Commonwealth], though there will be many others). And of course, conjuncturally, these layers are only going to grow as the elite attempt to fasten the crisis onto the backs of the working class.

Still, potential constituencies, and tendencies, comprise a drift rather than a movement. The latter requires some kind of structure or coherence or unity or self-consciousness. Of course, this has been a sore point on the far Left for some time now. For the organizational instantiation of this ‘unity’ has been seen as having to be something like a party, headed by a leadership; and, more broadly, the aim of such an entity has been the conquest of a larger body for that unity - state power. And the problem is – the contention has been - that any victory, in these terms, is necessarily pyrrhic.

This whole issue has probably been over-complicated. Taking control of the state in any narrow way, through something like elections in a Western country, in today’s capitalism, is clearly an impossibility for a genuinely left party. (Getting one or two MP’s elected is a different matter, and a decent contribution to strategy. Likewise, pressure to change the legal constitution, on an ad hoc basis and as part of some campaign, is also good strategy). Restructuring of basic socioeconomic relations must, rather, take place for the most part autonomously of the state, within the movement itself, as an ordering of its own organs. This is simply the strategy of hegemony, applied not just to ‘intellectual conceptions’ but also to institutions. And again, the point is that the constituencies and social tendencies are extant, today, for this to seem quite possible.

And yet one still needs an engine. Demonstrations and election-runs are often merely used today by Left parties as a focus - as something to do, to put it at its most basic. These foci create the concentration of energy expended on them. The trouble is that these foci are merely reactive, or symbolic. The movement needs an autonomous focus. If not a perpetuum mobile, this would at least give it in control of its own energy.

Why not the 5th International? The smirks are audible...but while one can go on all day about virtualities, attractors, etc, we need to get real – that is precisely the call of Capitalist Realism. This is not about more worshipping of a South American leader with a beret, that’s just a cheap slander. Rather, it simply makes sense.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Review of 'The Value of Nothing' by Raj Patel

There is no such thing as the contemporary Left. Instead, there are many hundreds of ribbons, flapping violently in the turbulence and blasts of air that form as capitalism speeds, Mach 4 or 5 now, to...the next quarter of financial results. Seen from afar, the ribbons might look small, but each of them is enough to consume millions of campaigners and dozens of supporting organizations (your heart sinks when you see the thin gatherings and the clattering pennies actually available). But although these ribbons sometimes come together to wave in a great undulating snake, it is always only in reaction to events (a war, a summit, a particularly outrageous injustice). There is no cross-weave actually holding them together, and they soon fall apart again, each dancing their solitary little death. As the Germans might have put it a couple of philosophical generations ago, there is no Idea.

There are some contenders. Mass-participation is one. Ecological small-scale localism is another. Global social justice is another. Social democratic compromise and market-regulation at the world level is another, middle-aged option. There are many other smaller eddies which might form a hopeful monster in the coming decade - a decade of reckoning. And naturally, you can mix n’ match.

These lack true force. They are still reactions to symptoms of capitalism - disenfranchisement, environmental destruction, inequality, socioeconomic chaos - rather than independent programmes standing on their own foundation of value.
Value – that is the crucial word. The way you elbow past what is superficial to capitalism, towards what is essential, is to keep your eyes trained on the question of value. Equally, the way you form a coherent notion of how things should be, is – this is obvious, a logical truth, since you are just saying the same thing two ways – to reflect on what is of value. And the movements mentioned above are only half-formed because their statement of how things should be, of what is of value, is only partial. Participation – yes, but to what end? Environmental harmony – OK, and then? Social justice – but justice is one aspect of the ethical domain, not its entirety. Social democratic compromise – that’s just a technical arrangement. (Incidentally, it is on the Right where the question of value is self-consciously posed. But always posed so pathetically – either in purely personal terms, or with reference to some great Age as written about in some great Book by some great Man, or in terms of some Nation or Empire or other badly-made political product of the rich and fat).

The question of value within capitalism, and within the counter-movements to it. Obviously, there’s a link – we sense we are somehow dealing with one thing rather than two, here. Negatively stated, the opposing formations do not state a truly convincing case, able to corral and galvanize a political-social will of real clarity and confidence, because they have not first analysed seriously enough the system they oppose, as an ordering of value.

Every economic system is a distribution of things among people. It is also a distribution of time between people. It is also a distribution of energy – generated and consumed. It is the principle according to which these distributions occur (whether self-consciously pursued or just an unconscious engine). Economic history reveals different formations. You can look upon these from a value-neutral perspective, maybe just as a succession of structures that human civilization takes as it bends into the eternal wind of the Second Law of Thermodynamics – this is a popular account, and no doubt correct. But it is also the case that in these different formations, different people get the gems and baubels on the one hand, and clean up the shit on the other; and successive times define different gems and baubles, and within times there is disagreement about what gems actually are, and about how much shit a bauble is worth; and people seem always to care rather a lot about this. And that is sufficient to make every economy a distribution or an order of value.

In my opinion, the best statement thus far - though not without serious flaws - of the principle that animates our order of value, capitalism, was given by Marx (don’t worry, it won’t get too boring). Marx defined capital as m-c-m’. “M” stands for money. “C” stands for ‘commodity’. “M” with the apostrophe, the prime, indicates a greater quantity of M, relative to the first. It would be overambitious to review the argument of the thousands of pages of Das Kapital and associated manuscripts just now, but in thumbnail form, under capitalism, someone with money (‘M’) uses it to acquire tools/machinery and labourers (both found on their respective markets, i.e. as commodities, so ‘C’), employs these to produce some goods (‘C’ again), which are then sold, for a larger sum of money than was expended originally, i.e. a profit (M’). The labyrinthine complexities, evolutionary tendencies, categories, crises, classes, differentiations, and so on which real-world capitalism develops, are obviously pertinent to an actual understanding of its character and trajectory. But nevertheless, they are all summarized by, are all baroque and centuries-long elaborations of, that one little formula: m-c-m’.

In English, that reads as: money, employed in the production of commodities, to make more money. Now, everyone knows, from their own experience, which symbol wears the trousers here. If you have waited on the phone listening to The Four Seasons before being met with customer services’ rendition of Kafka’s Castle, and compared this bored neglect with the riotous enthusiasm that greeted you before you bought your widget. Or if you took note when US Steel changed its name to USX (“What does the ‘X’ stand for?”; “Money”). Or if you registered the difference in the sums given to financial-, as compared to productive corporations in the recent crisis-transfers of wealth to private entities (viz., a few trillions). In short, if you have been paying attention, you will know that M beats C. Corporations must produce something; but at the end of the day, any crappy shit (as Marx put it) will do. You can produce waste if you like; you can produce war, death, lies, political parties – there are people doing all of these, with elan; just as long as you get more money at the end.

In fact Marx defined capital as the motion through that formula, through the circuit m-c-m’. Money must move to stay still, must constantly change into things and back again in order to be itself (as capital). Capital is its becoming more than itself. Philosophically expressed, capital is self-expanding value with no other ultimate goal than itself. It is Narcicus, Madonna, Tony Blair.

This is capitalism’s answer to the question of value. It is: growth. Growth is easily dismissed as an accountant’s value, but it is not difficult to argue that, as the precondition for the fuller conduct of all other activities, the expression of all other values, it is the master value. You could call it “freedom”, and that would be quite respectable, nobody would laugh. And in fact, this is what is maintained, very vigorously, in every media organ from the Wall Street Journal down. Capitalism is value-neutral, and delivers abundance. All the better for us.


A revolution occurred in the 17th century when Francis Bacon, Robert Boyle, Robert Hooke and other practitioners of the new Experimental Philosophy, began the meticulous measurement of Nature. The keystone of any serious science since that time has been observation, “concentrated experience” as Nietzsche put it. It is easy to yawn over this hackneyed story. But you can reproduce for yourself the enormity of the relief this represented: Switch on TV. Find chat show. Watch. Repeat three or four times, and you are back to the state of primitive ignorance.

Now, the question is, If we observe the world around us - capitalism as it exists - do we observe an empire of Freedom and Abundance? Is that our day-to-day experience, of life lived? For one percent of the population, the answer to this might be “yes”. For another ten percent, it might be “sometimes”. For around thirty percent, it would be “not exactly”. The remaining fifty nine percent would laugh in your face.

True, these percentages will improve somewhat as a greater middle class is brought into being in developing countries around the world. But there are severe structural limitations on this, and anyway it is much more than that. To keep the point short: capitalism is ripping apart everything. Body, soul, world, culture, beauty, environment, life, society. Things we value – in fact, the very fabric of value. Ad hominem arguments are rightly frowned upon, but I would suggest that if you cannot see this, it’s already gotten you. Capitalism is certainly dynamic, and we do indeed stand on a great stratum of wealth that has been lain down now for a couple of hundred years. But empirically, it is false that this is the setting for a great flowering of what we value. Rather, there seems to be some fundamental antagonism between what we value, and capitalism. Enigmatically, capital’s self-expansion seems actually to be something very distinct from us (although we’ve probably reached the limit of the ability of this kind of language, of “self-expanding value” and so on, to illuminate it further).

You can tell that Raj Patel spies something similar, by his new book’s title, The Value of Nothing. Patel probably wouldn’t see it like this, but his book can be construed as a record documenting a struggle occurring inside contemporary economic theory over its foundations, in the face of ever more forceful evidence, that somewhere near its core sits a profound mistake. That this mistake has to do with neglecting and making invisible a whole world of value. And that based on this mistake, economic theory is becoming a primary force in abetting – the horrific realization – something like the destruction of humanity. (Obviously this sounds melodramatic, but I would maintain with all seriousness that, insofar as one can pin things down and attribute responsibility in this way, modern economic theory has been responsible for the deaths of more people than any other ideology in history, probably by several orders of magnitude).

The basic thesis of the book is suggested by Wilde’s aphorism that, “Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing” - the difference between price and value, and the consequences of eliding them, is the book’s rough object. The first half presents theoretical programmes and research findings within (non-orthodox) academic economics which challenge the assumptions of the dominant model in this regard. The second reports on various movements around the world which both fight against expressions of that model, and seek to institute different ways of organizing economic affairs.

There are lots of books like this. They could be placed on a continuum, according to the degree to which the basic premises of conventional theory are abandoned. Patel’s book is interesting because, I would say, it goes about close as possible to the edge of the mainstream in search of revisions which might accommodate a more humane –no, just a more realistic - perspective. The result, I think, is a classic dog’s dinner (this isn’t a vague slander, but a proposition about formal coherence), and the lesson is that, if you want the economy to run according to different values, you have to completely abandon contemporary economics, and start again on an independent footing. That is what Angel Economics sets out to do, and whatever its particular merits or failings, the basic approach (i.e. a complete break) is what is essential.


The book belongs roughly to that genre of ‘activist economics’, which emerged around 15 years ago as the publishing counterpart to the rise of disparate movements around the globe opposing the implementation of ‘neoliberal’ economic policies by their national governments, backed by various international institutions (the breakthrough book, for bringing these issues into the mainstream, was No Logo). It has a breezy, journalistic-cum-popular-science voice (though is often rather disjointed: too much cut and paste), and is clearly aimed somewhere around the 3-for-2 market.

The universe of reference is basically what is called “heterodox economics”, and Patel does a decent job of picking though some of the stronger critiques of orthodoxy: behavioural economics, critique of the corporate form, Keynesianism, research on altruism, happiness research, green economics, etc. Patel’s background – Oxford, LSE, Cornell and Yale- is a measure of the trenchancy of these critiques and how far they have climbed up the towers of learning over the past generation, by the sheer force of their truth. (And of course there are many additional lines of research from a similar perspective on which Patel could have drawn).

Just as with the ‘movement’, the eclecticism of these intellectual critiques is refreshing. But what none of them ever call into question in any clear way (and most to not challenge at all), is whether “the market” should be the basic organizing institution, our economic software. Patel follows this, but because he also participates in and reports on aspects of a movement which is asking precisely this question, he is led to say some strange things.

Patel, it sometimes seems, believes in the market in the same basic way as does the contemporary economic academy. There, it is a matter of a somewhat diffuse intellectual construct, hiding behind a sort of ‘power-word’, which is far more an article of faith and a linguistic habit, than a rigorously demonstrated proposition. There are casual justifications and cursory references all over this book. Early on, for example, he says that, “The idea of a market as a place in which people with diverse needs exchange goods is one that can be found in every human civilization”(22). First, this is false. Second, the ahistorical identification of every theatre of exchange under the rubric “market” – as though the New York Stock Exchange and some borderland region in Ancient Mesopotamia 4000 years ago differed only in degree – is characteristically superficial of today’s market champions. Third, history is a poor reference-point for what is a structural question. Society today is qualitatively different in its complexity and degree of internal organization, with institutions and pursuits never seen before. Referring to history in this way is lame.

Or – Patel reports the results of a study purporting to show that people living in societies in which they engage in market transactions are more cooperative (32, it is a “predictor of cooperating”). It is a tiring business critiquing these game-theoretic ‘experiments’ so beloved of social science, because one has so painfully to repeat such simple rules of evidence, logic, scope, inferring ‘ought’ from ‘is’, and so on. Save to say that the result means little. It’s the flippancy with which it is presented that is significant, though, when any fool can see from a moment’s thought that a higher degree of cooperation is achieved between two people when they are, um, cooperating in something, collaborating in some joint project, than when they engage in the relatively external and brief act of exchange.

Or – Patel disavows attempts to abandon markets, because, “markets are good ways to decentralize decision making, and it’s hard to imagine a functioning democracy where people are free without also having markets” (188). Regarding the first half of this sentence, markets are not the only way to get decentralized decision-making. This fact is one of the starting points of systems like Angel Economics, and other such constructions (although you see such decentralization manifest every day, in all sorts of institutions, once you start looking). The second half of the sentence, equating democracy with markets, is beneath comment.

But Patel doesn’t really believe. True, there are lots of points when he seems to plonk a Reform-shaped stick in the sand: there are calls to “rebalance market society” (173), for “reclaiming the ability to engage market society” (176, no, I’m not sure either), or for “reembedded markets” (189). But these remarks co-exist with statements of which the most strident communist would be proud: “By choosing to value the world through markets, we choose the principle of “The more money you have, the more you can get”” (146); “In order for sustainable policies to take off, the artificial people – public and private – that we have allowed to dominate our world will need to be remade, as will our ideas about what constitutes property” (165); or we have a whole chapter (chapter 6) on how the market was the result of the enclosure of the commons, and how this theft continues to this day; and so on.

Predictably, the combination of these perspectives leads to outright confusion. As one illustration, near the end of the book, when Patel is rounding things up and summarizing his vision, he says:

What we need is a more plastic idea of property, one in which property and markets are always subordinate to democratic concerns of equity and sustainability. That’s exactly what the free software movement has been practicing – the hacking of market society, putting its power in everyone’s hand” (189).

I submit this is not coherent, because, 1. Markets and ill-defined property rights (“a more plastic idea of property”) cannot co-exist. Well-defined property rights are an absolute precondition for functioning markets. There is a reason why statements about the recognition and defence of property rights are always among the first articles in every modern constitution. 2. Insofar as you have markets, you do not have equity, other than in a mealy-mouthed, doublespeak manner. Markets have competition, winners and loosers, big players against little ones, labour markets where the labourer holds few cards and the employer many, and so on and on. While, on the other side, if you regulate for equity in a meaningful way, you will kill the market. 3. The free software movement is not “putting [market society’s] power in everyone’s hand”. What would that even mean? It is in direct contradiction to the market, because it is giving away software for free, whereas the market just is people selling stuff. 4. And by the same token, whatever the free software movement therefore illustrates, it is not a practice of subordinating the market’s natural tendencies to other values. There is no market there. The values it embodies are non-market, not restrained-market.

Or take this example:

Rather than hoping for a cure to prices getting it wrong, we’ll need to appreciate that prices can at best, only give a blurry sense of priorities and possibilities. We’ll never be able to see the world clearly through the glass of the market. And that’s no bad thing. Armed with this knowledge, we can train ourselves to use our other senses, to know the world in different ways. The same thing needs to happen with the way we approach our economy and society... We need to admit that prices don’t signal what we believe – only after we’ve stopped confabulating about prices will we be on the road to recovery” (192).

It is a curious exhortation, this. Fundamentally, Patel is talking to modern economists, when he recommends that we need to stop “confabulating about prices”, i.e. thinking that the price of something specifies its value exhaustively. And yet clearly, by “we” he means us ordinary bods, the common man and woman. But no sane individual does think the price of something specifies its value exhaustively. People sometimes do things which indicate judging-by-price, but not often, and it is really just an indication of the knots that modern economics has gotten itself into, under the pressure to mathematize, that it holds to this proposition.

On the other hand, people certainly do conduct exchanges on the basis of the price of their goods. In a market society, you have to do that, insofar as you are acting in accordance with the market. The idea that we “train ourselves to use our other senses, to know the world in different ways” – with the vague suggestion that, somehow, this is going to make the market operate according to a larger number of dimensions of value - is exactly the kind of excuse-my-French shibboleth you get when you are twisting yourself around something which makes no sense. (‘Getting all epistemological’ should be recognized as a sign that you have gone wrong somewhere).

You can of course build more factors into a price, so that it is recognizing things you want to value. There are different ways of doing this. Carbon-markets, Fair Trade, or the heavily regulated markets like in some healthcare systems, illustrate three approaches. This may ultimately be what Patel means, but I doubt it, because as a well-read economist he will be too aware of the way the logic of the market always seems to corrupt these attempts.


There are many other illustrations that could be displayed, but general lesson is that we must consider whether ‘the market’ is in fact not compatible at all with practices and values we want to see. Patel provides so much evidence throughout his book, of the pathologies to which the market has given rise in the world, that any reasonable person would think this is the natural inference.

I would suggest that it is merely the apparent lack of an alternative that explains why such a deduction is not made (the mind always shrinks from what seems to be a counsel of despair). For although Patel does survey alternatives in the second half of his book – participatory budgeting, wiki-style mass participation, grassroots democratic organizing (as in popular political movements), the Zapatistas, forms of commons management, relocalized agriculture – these are at most hints of what is possible, rather than fully fledged alternative means of social organization that one could imagine replacing the market in a modern society.

Hence Angel Economics. But that is just one structure, no doubt carrying traces of the peculiarities of one individual. It importance (in my view) is in showing that you can have decentralization without the market, that you can have participatory democratic planning with decentralization, and that you can have non-monetary coordination without complete chaos or long hair and rainbow t-shirts (no offence).

But what we really need is a new academic discipline whose purpose is to examine non-market forms of ‘macro-coordination’, i.e. economic coordination operating over large scales. The models would need to be investigated from all angles. How good are they at transmitting information? How well do they organize people? What effects do they have on people’s motivation? What values do they instantiate?

This would firmly puncture the automatic assent that is given to ‘markets’ in economics departments. It would be seen that ‘the market’ is just one organizational form among many (or, actually, a cluster, one cluster), not the best, and certainly not some sort of Natural Form, sub specie aeternitas. (Especially in Anglophone countries, it is construed as some kind of organic extension of evolutionary principles, an instance of complexity theory, and, you know, just anything new and shiny).


Once you have struggled free of the idée fixe of the market, and found this new land of alternative organizational forms, then you can begin to address the question of value in a serious way, because you can start to see how values might actually be concretely embodied in such forms. It is a measure of the liveliness of the book and the productiveness of Patel’s intellectual imagination, that in spite of sometimes swaddling himself in his ‘markets’ blanket, elsewhere he actually discusses such completely revolutionized conceptions.

‘Value’ means ‘what people value’ , and the true alternative to markets as a way of building this into a workable structure is participatory democracy. In his discussion of the outstanding participatory budgeting project in Porto Allegre, Patel writes that,

...[It] is through this active local politics that Brazil’s citizen’s have been able to be a part of the process in deciding what is valuable and what is not. In doing so, they have changed the political geography of the city” (149).

Imagine for a second that a similar process was undertaken in a modern developed country. One would soon discover the real relative values of F16 jets, versus improved healthcare services, or (extending the process) of menial workers relative to football stars. ‘Value’ means ‘what people find valuable’. Participatory democratic forms provide the means for this to find expression, and participatory budgeting proves that it works.

Patel is capable of going further, and putting some real meat on the bones. Slightly earlier in the book, he had turned his attention to the issue of opportunity cost (roughly the value of what you do, in light of the value of what you don’t do) - that critical, beguiling, and not necessarily coherent foundation stone of contemporary economics. Patel brings it up in his discussion of a particularly infamous example of the autism of today’s economic reasoning, when Larry Summers concluded that disposing of toxic waste in Africa rather than in Europe was more efficient, because “poor people value environmental harm less than rich people”. Patel writes that this,

[Shows] how the idea of opportunity cost might help. Choosing how to use resources has consequences with which we all live, and in which we all have a stake. There is no single opportunity cost – the examples taught in classrooms assume a common economic language of money, but Larry Summers’ opinion as to how to handle the toxic waste is going to be very different to that of a woman in a Somali fishing village who has to live with the consequences... Opportunity cost when it comes to public policy is something that needs to be defined and debated collectively...[The] assessment is not a technical exercise, but a political one that requires democracy, not experts” (145/6).

Bang on. The further extension of this would be to see what the procedures might be in order to institute this among large numbers of people in a stable and rational way. Angel Economics uses the principle that the degree of your say in any such discussion is determined by the degree to which you are affected by the outcome. The whole process would be underlain by a solid base of predictive modelling, based on the statistics of probability distributions. But anyway, the chief point is that you substitute social participation for faux-objective maths puzzles.

But further, Patel sees one of the consequences of this viewpoint, and advocates it. If people are going to be participants in valuing their world, and making decisions, they need to not be idiots. There’s a great passage where he runs the full way through the argument:

There are some things that can’t be captured by a single number, but still need management, and the only way that can happen fairly is through democratic politics. The answer to the market’s valuing of the world at naught is not a democracy run by experts, but the democratization of expertise and resources” (171).

To my eyes that reads like a little Prolegomenon to Angel Economics, but then I’m biased. The point is the direction in which you are naturally led, once you really start thinking critically about the deficiencies of the market, what might be necessary to correct these, and what might be necessary to provide the foundations for these corrections. As said, it is testament to the integrity of Patel’s thinking that, whilst still paying deference to the ‘markets’ of his academic colleagues , he follows also where the road of reality leads. The open question now, is how many other people are going to follow.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Review of Hardt and Negri's 'Commonwealth'

Here's a strange thing about Hardt and Negri's latest book. Empire, the first in the trilogy, was, obviously, about 'Empire' – the new super-national form and structure of global rule that H&N deem to have emerged in recent decades. And Multitude was about the 'Multitude' – the half-rabble, half-working-class subject which forced Empire into being; its opposite and nemesis, fated to overcome the domination Empire exercises over it and charged with realizing freedom, love, and all manner of good things. But Commonwealth can't really be said to be about a commonwealth, either existent, emerging, predicted, or demanded. The notion is never discussed, anywhere in the book.

One or two aspects of a sought-for commonwealth are treated – the form of property pertaining to it (common property rather than private property); the new mode of labor underlying it and making it possible (biopolitical labor, which is to say, labor which produces the substance of life, which is to say, labor which produces the substance of subjectivity, which is to say, what economists call 'services' – things which, broadly speaking, enrich the connections between humans); the political form appropriate to it (participatory democracy rather than the quasi-aristocratic form of representative democracy we have today). But the treatment of these themes is pretty cursory, is subordinate to critique of what exists today, and is conducted with a high level of conceptual fuzz throughout.

A cynic would say of this book that the authors are simply cashing in on a successful brand. After all, weren't we told in Multitude that it stood to their previous book as Hobbes' De Cive stood to his Leviathan? Hobbes didn't write a trilogy. Defending H&N against this cynic would be difficult, moreover, because there is really nothing new here. The same territory is covered as previously (and I mean exactly the same territory. I wouldn't be surprised if there are identical sentences). Any shift in focus is negligible.

Here's what a sharp-eyed theorist might observe: “If Commonwealth fails to extend H&N's project, if in many ways it represents a step backwards from their previous work (after all, how much clearer and more direct in style their second book was!) then we have to seek the explanation, ultimately, not in the authors' failings and compromises, but in objective conditions . The reason is the same as why Bob Dylan is now turning out horrendous Christmas carols, where, in the 60's, this man seemed able to tap into that decade's exuberant spirit: the anticapitalist movement, which was the reason Empire was catapulted to success in the first place, and to which Multitude was obviously addressed, has faded. The summit gatherings have tailed off from the monstrous 300,000 of Genoa. The World Social Forum, while numerically larger, has lost a lot of its vibrancy. And does anyone really use Indymedia these days?”

Of course there's some truth to this. But it hides a much larger story. The same energies, demands, organizational forms, and even many of the same people who went into the anticapitalist movement, can be found now in the global popular movement to halt climate change. Many of the same constituencies put their enthusiasm and drive into the Obama electoral campaign (of course, they are being betrayed), itself a transferal from a growing anti-Iraq-war movement which made that war unacceptable in public opinion. If Indymedia has waned slightly, that's only because the model of news created by and for ordinary people, uncontrolled by media corporations, has become generalized in thousands of blogs, podcasts, discussion forums, viewer-supported video networks, and online news sites, in a process which is killing major newspapers. The anarchist mood of the anticapitalist movement - of individuals collaborating in a common project whilst disdaining any organizational form involving their passivity in response to orders – has also generalized across the social field: YouTube didn't exist when Empire was written, and Wikipedia had only just begun. Now they are central institutions, and hundreds of thousands of projects embodying the same ethos are likewise flourishing. In short, the movement got serious, and got down to work (example: Naomi Klein followed No Logo with Disaster Capitalism). And this is only to mention a few headlines from in the developed world.

Commonwealth covers none of this. It is true that they intend their analysis is to be conducted on a different plane from such empirical events, namely that of social philosophy. But I think the real problem (though they would no doubt reject the accusation) is that they see their work as part of a debate among academics and theorists, rather than as a contribution to a movement, aimed at articulating and clarifying its thoughts. At best, the work is straddled somewhere between the two. This may be a cheap shot, but is there not something rather self-contradictory about the fact that they have not chosen to publish the text (about common property) online for free, but are instead choosing (and it is a choice) to publish through the accepted capitalized channels for information distribution? I doubt it occurred to them, and that says something.


It is by no means all bad. Indeed, in some ways, it is a measure of the theoretical advances made by H&N that these criticisms can be made of them at all. The catalog above, recording manifestations of the rampaging productivity of what may as well be called 'the multitude', can be read as H&N getting it right. Their central theoretical proposition concerning Empire, moreover, looks ever more correct, and this is not nothing - even Perry Anderson, the ablest Marxist of our time by a huge margin, was judging American ascendancy at the same time as H&N discerned its eclipse. Now the G20 has been anointed as the premier intergovernmental ruling power, and the dollar may be on a long-term road to loosing its position as the international reserve currency. Surely H&N deserve a lot of credit.

Their books are bursting with imagination. Nobody who has spent time trudging through anemic Marxist work that sticks loyally to orthodoxy, can fail to feel grateful for the sheer life of this writing. Similarly, anyone who wallowed in the crocodile pessimism of poststructuralist philosophy must owe H&N thanks for their optimism, and their politicization of a field that was becoming dominated by smirking English professors. They made contact again with something like the spirit of '68, from which this philosophical tradition originally took its force.

It is not just style, though. In their judgments they are spot on about a lot of things. They are right to distinguish the 'common' from the private and the public, and to highlight the importance of this legal-social category, and its potential to provide the structural basis of a new social form; correlatively, they are right to insist that capitalism v socialism is therefore a false dichotomy. Moreover, their insistence that this common is in large part something that is being created – that it comprises languages, codes, ideas and so on – is also important. A lot of work on the commons begins from the perspective of the old peasant commons of the late Middle Ages, and doesn't stray very far from this. The concept is consequently often seen as something that applies only to natural resources, or to the third world – in sum, as not having much to do with modernity.

Their extensions of Marx are bold and insightful. There is without doubt something correct about the judgment that capital has now risen beyond the workplace and subsumed society as a whole in its crystal jaws. There is a social factory (that is why disruptions to the high street conveyor belts during a protest, or defacing advertising, or building occupations, have such a frisson of danger, and why the participants feel so free). Consumers and workers are regimented, policed, persuaded and formed down to the ganglia, by the machine. It is true that new forms of labor are becoming hegemonic, that the dynamics that these forms follow are very different to those of the old industrial labor, and that the productivity and organization of at least a section of this labor is increasingly independent of its relationship with capital, which has therefore become extraordinarily parasitic. (Negri, and his fellow Italian workerists, deserve a comradely pat on the back for having pursued all these themes for the past 40 years).

Their criticisms of other contemporary social theorists are strong, and their appropriation of the work of many others is creative, being used to sketch pictures of the social terrain which often resonate.

Their political judgment is sound. They are precisely right to say that “capitalist relations of property are becoming increasingly...fetters today [on people's capacities to develop]” (298) and right to think that this is among the most powerful ways in which to critique the system. The program of demands of reform they put forward – massive restoration and building of physical, social and immaterial infrastructure around the globe; the introduction of new freedoms (of movement, of time, of work); granting a guaranteed income; the establishment of participatory democracy at all levels of government – is inspiring, and keyed in to contemporary debate. And it is a great measure of both the vice in which capital has society, and of the mediocrity of today's generation of politicians, that, as H&N note, this program has virtually no chance of being introduced by elites.

Even where the thoughts they follow are only half-formed, there is evidence of the fecundity of their angle of vision. For example, in pursuing their argument that the wealth created by the multitude consists of the manifold modes and platforms of interaction in which it engages, they point out that property values are a good indirect measure of this. (Those values tend to be highest where that interaction is most dense, most exciting). One can sense that, waiting here, there is a brilliant derivation of the financial crisis centered on the inflation of property values and their privatization of the common.

But there are a lot of these half-formed thoughts. They reinterpret Marx's categories of 'necessary labor', 'surplus labor' and 'the rate of surplus value', in terms of the 'common powers of production', and proceed to observe that this leads to an extension of the contradiction between the private nature of capitalist property relations and the social nature of the production. They reinterpret Quesnay's Tableau Economique in terms of categories of struggles between classes (rather than categories of goods, or relations between sectors of the economy), and ultimately struggles against Empire. They reinterpret the function of finance, as capital's ideal means of expropriating the common whilst remaining external to the actual organization of production.

Great stuff, except that these points combined occupy no more than about 3 pages of text. Marx worked for 40 years at figuring out the laws that govern capitalism; the theoreticians working with the framework he developed predicted the current 'credit crunch' years before it happened (check out work in Monthly Review, or Perry Anderson's 2007 editorial in New Left Review, or Robbert Brenner's The Economics of Global Turbulance, or the British SWP's International Socialism Journal). The truth is very valuable to us; they take it too casually.



1. H&N: What do religious fundamentalists, nationalists, racists and economicists (as in 'economism', the theoretical tendency to reduce everything to economics) have in common? They all focus on the body, and see a transcendent essence behind it. The book is absolutely replete with this kind of bollox. There is not a grain of truth or insight here. It is bullshit of the purest extraction.

2. Please dump these ridiculous lineages of philosophers. Apparently there is a line of 'phenomenology of the body' that runs: Bergson & Giovanni Gentile > Dilthey & Yorck von Wartenburg > Heidegger > Merleau Ponty > Foucault. Apparently this involves progressive clarity about the fact that power is immanent, that subjectivity is produced by resistance, and so on. I tell you what: I don't believe you. These lineages are all over the book, as they were over the previous two. Negri is a great intellectual historian, but there's a kind of autism here.

Also, dump the false structural architectures: the trilogy of books each with their tripartite sections. The dialectic of Empire-multitude. The major-lines versus minor lines. Its like H&N are daring critics to show incredulity towards their metanarrative. It has the feeling of a game.

Dump the concept-checking (I don't recall 'events' playing much of a part in Empire, but now that Badiou is big, they suddenly figure, and moreover, as always-having-been-incorporated).

3. The language is tortuous. Although this is partly because H&N are fully signed up to the appalling bluff that humanities professors have tried to perpetrate for the past 30 years (called 'Theory'), it is also because there is a lack of actual content. A waffle of abstractions is the norm; gems are the exception.

4. Repetition. The book repeats itself throughout, and repeats themes from the previous two books, with little sign of the issues having been thought through or further developed.

All this could be forgiven if it were compensated by more substance regarding the purported object of the book. It should have detailed the lineaments of the common-wealth - as the constitutional and economic form tendentially brought into being by and through the multitude. The forms of interaction that take place therein. The conceptual form, and the philosophic history it realizes. The book should be crammed with examples of activists, social entrepreneurs, open-source coders, social centers, and all the other projects, analyzed to see the forms they instantiate.

Instead, what we have is a lot of promises and place-holders, and straightforward muddle. For example, H&N argue strenuously that a key feature of biopolitical production is that it tends to exceed all attempts to measure and quantify it. In place of tonnes of coal and numbers of toothbrushes, the biopolitical realm consists of relationships, ideas, passions, capacities, encounters, friendships, ethical fibers...and accountants can't put numbers on these things. (Is this even true? You can do some very clever things with powerful statistical methods. But there is zero chance that H&N will have considered this). So the quantification of this realm is impossible. But then H&N proceed to propose that a possible strategy for the multitude to pursue would be to wrest the control of money from capital: “Might the power of money (and the finance world in general) to represent the social field of production be, in the hands of the multitude, an instrument of freedom, with the capacity to overthrow misery and poverty? Just as the concept of abstract labor was necessary for understanding the industrial working class as a coherent, active subject, including workers in a wide variety of different sectors, do the abstractions of money and finance similarly provide the instruments for making the multitude from the diverse forms of flexible, mobile, and precarious labor?” (295). Are numbers, and formulae, capable of representing the value of the productions of the multitude or not? Is there a contradiction here? Who knows? Anyway, onto Mao and some more concept-juggling....

Or again: a great insight of theirs is that one vast, concrete instantiation of the common – and a very powerful illustration of its wealth – is the metropolis. They record the change from the city whose urban shape and atmosphere was determined by the industrial factory, to one centered around all the activities in which biopolitical production consists. “The city...[is] a living dynamic of cultural practices, intellectual circuits, affective networks, and social institutions. These elements of the common contained in the city are not only the prerequisite for biopolitical production but also its result; the city is the source of the common and the receptacle into which it flows” (154). This sets up a potentially fascinating field of investigation, on which there are all sorts of angles: a look at how urban planning structures interactions and reflects the form of capital; historical investigations about the contestation of the forms of cities, and the politics crystallized in their physical form; the role of contemporary underground mileux and activist attempts to reclaim cities (guerrilla gardening; squatting; public spaces; allotment swaps; the rave scene; on and on); trends in architecture and how they relate to the common; and a thousand other things. But after the briefest of discussions about real-estate values, the whole theme of the metropolis is simply dropped. Of course, there isn't space for everything, but the point is that H&N don't pay sufficient attention to allow their conceptual point (that in the metropolis as elsewhere, capital parasitizes on the multitude) to be at all grounded in the facts – they are simply bringing up a subject and then slapping on their conceptual schemas, with copious slops of flour and water glue.

Or again: H&N are excellent at making the basic point that, if the hegemonic form of labor has changed qualitatively, so will the basic laws that govern its dynamics. But they made this point 9 years ago, and they have not followed through the implications at all. Are they aware, for example, of the extension of Moore's Law carried out by Ray Kurzweil, and its assertion that information-industries are subject to exponential growth - a contention with literally cosmological importance, if it is true? They surely should be, because it would seem to pertain to their subject very directly. Or, they argue against the autonomy of nature and assert that the body is subject to being altered by our preferences and desires. But instead of this opening out onto the mesmerizing world of the transhumanist technologies, they choose to illustrate this with reference to Judith Butler.


This is a missed opportunity. It is a real shame, because we do need intellectually serious, historically informed, conceptually sophisticated theorizing of what is going on. But concept-heavy work like this is unsatisfying, intellectual junk food. You do not put this book down and fizz with excitement about what you're going to do to be part of this movement.

H&N parade a succession of so-called ontological qualities before us, which are supposed to sum up the basic process of the multitude, encompass all its various articulations, and define it as a progressive force: love, constituent power, democracy, happiness, altermodernity, biopolitical reason, Rechtswollen. But we know, don't we, that these are just moves in a game with some other continental theorists. Maybe Zizeck will drop some amusing backhander; maybe the center of fashion will move to The Coming Insurrection, and the dominant taste will get a little harder. But the only people playing are the ones with the time.

Are their conceptual formulas of any use? Well, consider the following jotting of some diverse imagined routes via which something like Angel Economics (which I take to be pretty close to what H&N imagine as their Commonwealth) might get realized:

1. The backlash against the current recession leads to increased union power, including the formation of world-unions, and a compromise is reached which leads to unions being represented on the boards of corporations. With this, the raison d'etre of firms changes. Instead of merely returning shareholder value, they must look after their employees. They must also look after the communities they serve, and promote other values we hold dear: slowly, you can see the lines of something like Angel Economics taking shape.

2. The 100k garages movement, plus Fabbers and Makers and RepRappers, are spurred on by the ever-increasing drop in the cost of the technology on which they draw, and a huge expansion of people participating, as a consequence of a massive increase in structural unemployment. Released from the dictates of capital, these small, community-based producers are free to follow their own values. This slowly draws in more and more functions of life.

3. The transition town-movement develops, and extra sectors are arrogated to local control (local food production, local energy generation, local currencies etc). As such, they become essentially independent of the circuits of capital, and begin to function in answer to quite different values. They confederate.

4. As part of individual capital's genetic drive to increase the profit rate, more and more use is made of open-source, crowdsourcing, and other similar techniques of obtaining free labor, and more generally parasitizing upon people's natural creative inclinations. This becomes so predominant among so many industries, that actually 80% of the organizing is being done completely autonomously from any involvment with capital. Capital 'thins out' so much, in this way, that eventually it will be a relatively small step to expropriate it, default against it, or in other ways simply shut out the nominal owners of capital.

5. In the wake of repeated financial crises, there grows a large body of policy advocates for moves to 'invest sustainably'. What this means in essence is using money according to a logic in which money, actually, becomes subordinated to other values. A policy regime is instituted which slowly, but incrementally, introduces all the various features of Angel Economics, but as 'targets' which need to be met through capitalism (just as, say, honesty in advertising is today partially enforced through regulatory agencies) Eventually, this simply leads to the transformation of the capital-maximizing imperative into something else.

6. In economics, a growing movement seeks to replace the measure GDP with a whole host of other measures that actually track real life values. But, again, what this actually means is the subordination of money to real values.

7. The re-localization of governance functions (e.g. British Conservatives) grows to the point where regions are effectively governing themselves anyway. There is a strengthening of proper democracy. This crowds out capital.

8. Projects like Open Source Ecology become widespread, especially in the third world and in areas laid to waste by capitalism's twisted priorities. Groups build their own villages and reasonable technological capacity, connected into a world network via the internet. Beyond a certain number of people (doesn't need to be that many) they can produce what they need to entirely outside capitalism, and this provides the basis for the emergence of a different economic system.

9. The world of policy institutes, think tanks, and its anchor in academia and scientific research, grows to have ever greater influence over governmental policy, and therefore begins to make that policy ever more rational. Such obvious points as that people do best when they're in control, are eventually unavoidable. Revolution via the think-tank.

10. Legalization: The regulation of life according to rational values is enforced ever more through the courts, and through a world-wide system of justice, backed up by charters of rights. This, ultimately, implies the ordering of life according to values other than power and the maximization of profit. All it requires is for all relevant rights to be recognized (as they are not, today) and for there to be proper means of enforcement.

11. The mass-personalization, mass-customization and user-generation movements gather steam, as essentially consumer movements which alter what capitalism does. This functions to give people ever more control over what they purchase. As that grows, it brings with it many of the features of Angel Economics.

12. Challenges like global warming call for co-ordinated action among all the citizens of the planet. Both directly, and from their spin-off effects, this leads to the deepening of the regulation of social affairs for mutually agreed social ends, to the benefit of all.

13. 'Third-world' development and world international normalization: A brutally simple fact underlies the relative worker-passivity that has been experienced over the past 30 years. Namely, that the capitalist-consumer-dominant classes have been on one side of the world, while the most exploited workers have been on the other (China etc). Over the coming years, this is going to change. You watch the difference it makes, when you can see your exploiter.

14. Mechanical productivity increases. For some time it has been the case that a large portion of people are essentially living off the labor of a tiny number - so huge is the productivity of machines for what we really need. The rest is just the production of pointless waste. This 'rational case for the re-ordering of jobs' has therefore been around for a long time, but it will become too great to ignore.

15. What Kurzweil and the transhumanists say is true, and within a decade, serious changes are beginning to be made to humans' basic capacities. Many of the ape-derived tendencies which serve to perpetuate capitalism are simply switched off, or disconnected from the economic system. It looses its legs.

16. The transparency of capitalism. Capitalism comes ever ever more to rule, sinks itself ever deeper into the soul, has its values dominate public life. Today, public life is nominally ruled according to civic values. But the actual driving force is capital. This will become ever more transparent, as it has been doing now for decades. Across the whole western world, there is a complete cynicism towards politicians, and all other figures and functionaries linked into the governmental machine, for the simple reason that they constantly lie and do not do anything remotely related to what they profess to do, but are instead simply the mouthpieces, and brains, and arms and legs for capital. If your system relies on geniuses of manipulation (Barack Obama) to work, its obviously unstable because geniuses, by definition, don't come along that often. Eventually, the barrage breaks.

17. Informationalization. As the sciences – and therefore also engineering – are coming more and more to be information-processes, a few basic facts about information come to assert themselves. For example, the fact that it does not obey a logic of scarcity. This again tends to undermine one of the key structural supports of capitalism. Without them, it begins to be eclipsed, and other values come to prevail, to order the economy.

18. Psychoactives and brain science: Capitalism has always relied on placing itself between people and their seeking of exhalted expereinces. The preparation for this was done in the late Middle Ages. Witches, and other individuals who possessed the technology (i.e. herbal preparations, drugs) to allow humans to experience higher realms were systematically exterminated by the organized Church. In our own day it is advertising/branding that is responsible for exploiting the fact that humans have one half of their being in a higher-dimensional realm, and the attempt is therefore to divert this through, say, a pair of shoes or some crappy moulded plastic spaceship. But with the proliferation of psychoactive substances able to take us there directly, the sharing of experiential information, and, crucially, advances in brain science that allows this to become safer, people will go there directly. The raison-d'etre of half of capitalism then falls away, and with it go so many other of its premises, since it relies on pathologic overconsumption, driven by the creation of mental illness, to survive.

19. Unemployment: Unemployment is a key structural component of capitalism. It provides a means to prevent the working class from bargaining. The crisis is being used as a means to make workers work harder so that more value comes from them, meaning an increase in unemployment. OECD predictioms are for around 10% across developed world. (This can be translated into a real figure of around 25%, since, as usual, the official statistics find every possible way of lying). These people will simply build their own non-capitalist world.

This is a disparate collection, but if something like Angel Economics were to be brought about, these would be some of the forces involved. Do the universals H&N supply adequately subsume all these different changes? To some degree maybe. But much more so, they function to flatten out the heterogeneity.

All of this, all of these criticisms, can be boiled down to one central philosophical point on which I think one should be unwavering in disagreeing with H&N – the status of truth. H&N are part of that whole wider mileux on the left who have an agonized relationship to truth. The sources of this are multiple (Frankfurt-school scepticism towards the value of the rationalization produced by science; Marxist-inspired critiques of the role of science in service to capital; Nietzchean- Heideggerian- and Foucauldian-Deleuzian philosophical critiques; counterculture influences; feminist- and other 'subaltern' criticisms of 'dominant rationality'; and so on). And the outcomes are vaired (for H&N, the alternative supreme value seems to be Negri's Spinoza-inspired vitalism).

This scepticism plays an absolutely central role in the whole Empire series, determining even seemingly unconnected parts of their thesis. The claim that 'there is no outside' to Empire, for example, is not just a geographical claim, or a claim about the pervasiveness of capital's rule, deep down in your body. It is also a claim of epistemology: you do not have access to anything outside Empire. It is only, so to speak, a fortuitous, contingent accident that Empire immediately brings into being the Multitude. But the Multitude doesn't do what it does because those things are just, or true, or right, or good, or beautiful. They are simply the results of its overflowing, unconquerable Will.

This scepticism has been extremely productive in the new lines of enquiry it has opened up over the past 50 years, across a range of academic disciplines. But there has to be a way of harnessing this, without falling into the downright stupidity that has also been encouraged. The left, in its philosophical incarnation, should turn back towards the True, the Right, the Beautiful, the Just. And not in a faddish way, but because of the nobility of these values.

Monday, 22 June 2009


Angel Economics is an alternative economic system. It is a model of how the basic elements that make up what we call 'the economy' could be arranged.

It is defined by six basic features. It is: open, participatory, democratic, non-monetary, free, and multiform. These features designate its fundamental institutions; this outline describes them. It also describes three significant characteristics (there will be many others) of Angel Economics – technological sophistication, a two-hour work day, and its civilized character – which would naturally result from those institutions.

Angel Economics is intended as an alternative to the economic system that prevails over most of the globe today – capitalism. From a multitude of perspectives, that system does not work. It is unjust, wasteful, unproductive, and primitive; it twists human beings, poisons the natural world and dismantles noble values. It is a monster.

Bringing about Angel Economics, or any other similar alternative system, would be an historic human achievement. Like other redefining transitions in our species, from coming out of the trees to landing on the moon, it would represent our becoming something greater, higher.

How to do so is another question (explored elsewhere). But ends obviously precede means. Angel Economics is a contribution to a debate about what those ends should be.

* * *

The six defining features are discussed in outline below, followed by the three significant derivative characteristics. Here, they are introduced via contrast with today's economy. Elsewhere on this blog, they are each explored in more detail.


1. Open - The first feature of Angel Economics is that everything is open to everybody.

In today's economy, most things are closed. Indeed this is a constitutive feature of the system. But there are a few different ways of being 'closed'.

1. One is to be privately owned. This is a legal status something has, giving the owner (and nobody else) control over the thing. The actual way in which other people are 'closed out' depends on the thing. In the case of private homes and other private premises, for example, other people are physically closed out by walls, fences and locks, and if they overstep those boundaries without the permission of the owner they break the law. In the case of a business, non-owners are closed out in a different way. Namely, they have no control over its activities, no right to its profits etc. Ownership over a text or a piece of computer code closes out others in another way again, this time by 'closing off' certain uses (copying etc).

In our economic system today, most things are privately owned. Even central national institutions like railways, power stations, water treatment plants and hospitals, which everybody uses and therefore has a stake in, are owned by a small group of individuals, with nobody else having any say in what is done with them.

2. A second way of things being closed, relates to knowledge. Most realms of knowledge, especially the more important, are available only to a very small group. Although theoretically every person has access to the entire universe of learning, practically, the situation is little different from one where information is under tight access restrictions.

Academic research, for example, is effectively closed to most people, because they do not have the necessary grounding education that would allow them to make sense of it. True, everyone is free to visit a bookshop and buy Bioinformatics: Sequence and Genome analysis, or Onto-Ethologies: The Animal Environments of Uexküll, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Deleuze. But of course practically this means very little, because people simply do not have the time needed to devote to understanding large and complex disciplines, when four fifths of their time is spent merely doing what is necessary to survive.

What applies to academic research also applies to many other areas of knowledge. The law, the political process, and of most of the activity that comprises the running of the country; personal health and what is necessary to maintain it; the arts and higher levels of culture; practical matters, from how to build, to how to cook, to how to educate a child. Most people know almost nothing about any of these areas, and as a result they have no door into the worlds that they define.

3. Another way closure occurs is through money. Because ours is a money economy, access to almost everything depends on payment. Since most people have very little money, naturally they are extremely restricted in what they can buy.

This form of closure affects an enormous variety of phenomena – objects, experiences, places, lifestyles, opportunities. And so it restricts the majority of people to an extremely cramped, circumscribed life-space.

4. A fourth system by which regions of society are closed is institutional. Society includes a large cluster of institutions, most of which have strict rules of admittance that close out most people. Professions – lawyers, doctors, architects – require long periods of education and many rounds of tests before entry to them is granted. Political institutions – councils, national government and the civil service, supra-national governmental institutions, etc – while technically open to anybody wishing to stand for election, in actual fact are closed to everyone not wired in to complex networks of power and influence. Educational institutions have entry-grade requirements; most jobs have precise and extensive previous experience requirements; all nations have citizenship requirements. And so on.

Now clearly in some cases, having boundaries that exclude people lacking training or experience is very sensible. Nobody would want to be treated by an amateur heart surgeon, flown by an amateur pilot, or live next to a nuclear reactor staffed by amateur operatives.

However, limitations on access go far beyond what is strictly necessary. (The criteria specified in non-specialist job openings, for example, are often ridiculously precise, and reflect the employer's desire to save money on training rather than any difficulty of the role). Further, in many cases the regimes regulating who can belong to an institution, which look well-motivated on first glance, in actual fact have very little justification or are based on deeper, much more dubious circumstances. (For example, having trained doctors, and rigorous paths of entry to the profession looks plainly sensible. But doctors are in large part only needed because of the medical ignorance of the majority of the population, and that is an ignorance that has been 'created' by, among many other things, the all-consuming work life most people are forced to lead). And even where it makes sense to impose exacting conditions on who can qualify for a certain position, this does not mean that the opportunity to attempt to attain those qualifications should be made difficult, as at present (for example, although it is right that becoming a civil engineer requires full accreditation, the fact that training to acquire it is beyond the means of most people has no good rationale)

* * *

When all these are added together, it becomes apparent that the economic lives of most people under the present system are incredibly restricted. We are “free” societies only in the most formal sense. In reality, a long series of virtual walls force the bulk of the population into a wasteland, looking over the barriers toward the color and light.

Under Angel Economics, by contrast, everything is open. This basic character translates into different concrete practices in each area.

1. First, there is no private property. Large national utilities and other enterprises, land, natural resources, knowledge, industrial equipment – none of this is privately owned by an individual or group, nor is it owned by the State 'on behalf' of the population. It is owned by everybody, which is equivalent to saying that it is owned by nobody. More simply still, the institution of private property does not exist.

Now there will be some replacement rules to ensure, for example, that if I have lived in a certain place for many years, I cannot simply be thrown out by someone who has taken a liking to it. Similarly, an industrial concern that uses a set of buildings, machinery and resources, will have rights of disposal over them that can't merely be overridden by the whim of some distant claimant. However, these rules and rights will function quite differently from the institution of private property, and are always oriented towards openness. For example, all those in any way 'involved in' a factory – its workers, those supplying it resources, those using its products, those living nearby etc - will have a say over what it does, in proportion to the degree of involvement they have. So one might say that instead of walls, AE has contours. Moreover, they are contours defined by everybody democratically.

2. Second, the knowledge-environment is also far more open. To begin with, basic education delivers a far higher and broader level of knowledge than at present (because more time is available to devote to it, because there is a generally higher level of culture, because educational techniques are much improved, because many of the impediments to good education have been removed, and so on – see sections below).

Further, under AE people do whatever work they wish (see 'Free' section), so in all likelihood they will typically choose to work at a number of different jobs, in each one undertaking tasks that are stimulating and stretching, as opposed to routine and stupifying. For obvious reasons this kind of daily experience massively affects somebody's level of education and knowledge, so it is a big contributor to why individuals under AE are well-informed and capable.

There will also be a great deal more time (see 'Two-hour work day' section), for people to be able to devote to pursuing their interests, and, matching this, the institutional means to cater to them (adult education centers, training schemes, easy access schemes to different jobs, and so on).

As a whole, then, individuals generally have a high level of learning, and easy opportunity and ability to pursue inquiry into areas they do not know well. The world to them is well-lit and written in simple words.

Of course, experts, specialists, and people with long experience of particular trades all still exist, since this is necessary for anything to be executed to a professional standard, or for progress to be made in a discipline. And so there are also still very large differences in what people know, and conversely a great deal that each person does not know. What AE does, though, is simply to get rid of the economic features that produce cognitive disability, and hence insuperable boundaries to exploration.

3. Under AE there is no money, (see 'Non-monetary' section) so this huge source of boundaries on what people can do, does not exist. People are free to take whatever they need (see 'Free' section). For most people, this one step would open up their life-possibilities immeasurably.

4. AE has institutions through which people collect together to get things done, just like today – educational institutions, work institutions, government institutions, and so on.

The general rule governing these institutions is openness. So, all institutions are open to all at all times, unless there is a good reason for access to be restricted in some way. In practice, there will be restrictions on quite a few institutions, but just insofar as these serve to define their function, and only ever as a result of general agreement.

For example, an educational institution might restrict who can enter it based on what type of people it has been set up to teach. A class for young children would probably be closed to older adults (should they want to enter, for any reason) if it is felt that this is disruptive to their learning. Workplaces might restrict who can wander unannounced around their premises for similar reasons. These are very obvious, 'low level' restrictions.

Similarly obvious are what one might call 'quality' restrictions. As mentioned above, there are many jobs that are skilled, where an amateur performing them would be dangerous (an astronaut) or useless (a programmer). The training necessary for them functions in practice like a restriction, and this still exists under AE. But by contrast to today, the opportunity to undertake this training is freely available to everyone at all times, in a real way. So this is less of a wall, and more of a slope.

The basic rules and practices that define how institutions work will also function as 'restrictions' – in assessing students a teacher can't just fail anyone he doesn't like; when compiling a workplace newsletter, all departments should be given some coverage; when manufacturing ball-bearings, margins of error no more than a certain amount are acceptable. And so in some respects AE's institutions will end up looking similar to today's.

But these are the minimum necessary rules for things to work. The alternative – no rules, and therefore no institutions, strictly speaking – would actually create more barriers, because of the resulting sheer difficulty of getting things done.

* * *

This openness would give life under AE a completely different feel. The general world around would offer the same sense of possibilities that now exists only in people's personal space (and even there it has long since been shut down for many). Where, today, a convivial atmosphere between strangers is only ever an exceptional event – at times of natural disaster, say, or at festivals – it would be part of the everyday character of existence under AE.

2. Participatory AE is universally participatory.

Because everything is open, and you are the owner of everything, you are naturally free to participate in anything.

At present most important institutions are run by a very small number of people, with the vast majority excluded from participating. Large companies, for example, might be run by ten or so managers, while their tens of thousands employees merely do what they are told. Nations are governed by an often tiny number of politicians, while the only participation that most citizens enjoy is a single vote every four or five years.

But more generally, people do not participate a great deal in the social world around them. Few people, for example, who buy a car participate in its design. Residents in an area rarely participate in its running, administration, upkeep, and beautification. The shopkeeper feels she has no business participating in the publishing company down the road; the bin-man doesn't participate when the local delicatessen chooses its stock.

The reasons for this have to do with the private basis of today's economy; the fact that most people simply have little time outside of work hours to engage in anything other than resting and enjoying themselves; the fact that power has far too extensive a reign over social life; and the more general 'closed' atmosphere that these and other features create.

Since none of these things obtain under AE, the natural inclination of people to participate in what is near, important and interesting to them will flower fully.

To give more detail, one can expect, for example, that all those who devote time to working in a particular institution will participate in running it. Beyond that, all those affected by, or interested in an institution, could also participate in its management. For example, the residents around a slate mine would presumably have a lot of input into its operations simply to ensure that the character of their local environment is well preserved. People acquiring clothes might feel inclined to participate in their design or manufacture. Any enthusiast might participate in archaeological excavations, or indeed any other scientific inquiry being undertaken by a group of people. Citizens would certainly participate in their local and national government (see 'Democratic' section).

The whole atmosphere of AE, then, would be of a busy and healthy involvement of people in the institutions of their society and locale. Where today people's lives are tightly zipped into their job, family, and a few interests, under AE everyone has the natural presumption that whatever they come across, or whatever takes their interest, is open to them. There is an ethos of collaboration.

There will be some limits to participation, for the most part identical to the limits to openness and with the same rationale. For example, suppose a group of people are collaborating together in the production of a documentary, with the work in its final stages of editing. If out of the blue, a stranger were to decide to declare their dislike of what has been done so far, and demand it to be started from scratch, this would clearly not be fair.

Fair rules of participation, though, would not be difficult to formulate, and as in the case of openness, this could be done democratically.

3. Democratic There is democracy in all areas of life.

At present, the only important institutions that are run democratically are national political institutions, and they are democratic in so impoverished a sense that it corrupts the concept.

Under AE, all areas of life are governed by democratic rules. This is necessary and inevitable because, since everything is open to everybody and everyone is free to participate in everything, the only fair way to decide what actually gets done is via democratic procedures, i.e. with all the participating individuals having an equal say.

There are a number of ways of being 'democratic', and different practical arrangements would be appropriate to different circumstances. For example, in a small design company of under 10 people, running matters 'democratically' might mean that all of the workers involved have an active part in the meetings that decide what projects it is going to pursue. Everybody is given the same opportunity to voice their judgment, the opinions are all given fair weight, and the final decision is arrived at through general consensual agreement. On the other hand, suppose a neighborhood is deciding whether it would like to open an area of land to communal gardens. The affected locale might contain many thousands of people, making a discussion in which every person voiced their opinion unfeasible, and consensus improbable. Instead, an arrangement might be followed whereby through a range of public meetings, small discussion groups, and intranet chat, all residents contributed to a brainstorming session, coming up with ideas about what to do. A special, dedicated group then formulate a range of several options that capture the different ideas. Finally a vote is taken, and the successful plan is followed. So though the concrete forms might change in different circumstances, the basic ethos of 'fairness' and of everyone having an equal say is what provides the common thread between the different implementations of democracy.

In some cases, everyone having a strictly equal say would not be fair. If, for example, an ice-cream company were deciding what flavors to produce, then, other than the workers themselves, you might expect some influence to be given to those who eat the ice-creams, those who supply the ingredients that make up the flavorings (since it will involve their work), and other people in the vicinity who are making ice creams or similar products (because it may affect what they are doing). All would have some say, but maybe not exactly the same say. Some people would be more affected by the decision than others, so some kind of weighting would be appropriate.


In many areas of life it will be sufficient merely to let people participate in, and have a say over, those things they happen to be concerned about or involved in; i.e. participation here is a matter of inclination. There are some areas, though, which are so important that everybody should be required to participate in them. These areas consist of the matters which everybody is substantially affected by, whether or not they are aware of it. The matters included in this category would broadly be what today is taken by most to be the domain of “politics”. Such things as basic laws, the allocation of resources to different parts of the economy, decisions about how large areas of land are going to be used, big infrastructural projects, how people are educated, how the sick are treated, and so on. Of course, it is not that there is some external State or government somewhere that tells people they must participate. Rather, everyone decides on the principle that some areas are such that, if a person hasn't been involved in formulating policy about them, they can't really be said to be in control of their own life. So everyone agrees to make such participation obligatory.

In some cases (for example a proposal to construct a large reef of wave turbines, requiring millions of hours of labor and resources and potentially causing significant disruption to marine life and coastal inhabitants) the constituency of people that is significantly affected and who therefore should participate in deciding the question, may be: all those within a fairly large geographical area of the project whose labor and resources would be occupied in it (and hence not available for other potential uses); all those near the area whose lives stand to be disrupted; all those concerned with the effect upon marine life; all those groups of people, potentially anywhere in the world, who might be called upon to supply resources to the project (because their labor would be required) and also those whose lives are connected with those suppliers in some way (since, as before, labor devoted to this project is not available for other potential uses), and so on. (While strictly true that, if the chains of people affected by people people involved, were followed through to their end, then everybody would have to take part in every decision the world over; still, obviously at each degree of removal, the level of affectedness drops. Since the time available to devote to such issues is not infinite, it is the relatively more important issues that people participate in). Adding together all these various constituencies yields a group of participants probably numbering several million, possibly hundreds of millions. How would this work?

Today, the solution to the problem of how large numbers of people can make a decision is to use representation. But the parliaments of today demonstrate that it does not really work. In fact, there are many possible mechanisms by which millions of people might directly participate in coming to a decision on such an issue. One such is the following. The process is split up into two stages, a contributions- or brainstorming stage, and a decision- or voting stage. In the first stage, everybody offers their ideas, objections, proposals and alternatives, and generally discusses the issue. This can be done in electronic forums, face-to-face meetings, in publications and via other media.

Now, many ideas will overlap or coincide, some will be directly opposed to one-another, some will refine earlier suggestions, and so on, so that one can expect that all the expressed positions would be represented by, say, six or seven different concrete policy plans. The voting stage then occurs, through which one of these is chosen. Numerous modifications of this basic process are imaginable.

As well as variation in status, affected constituency and decision-procedure, there are also a great variety of levels at which collective decisions would have to be made, depending on the issue at hand. Some would have to be taken at a world level (i.e. with everyone participating), some at a regional level, some at a local level. Many would involve constituencies that are better specified in non-geographical terms: age-groups, industry sectors, medical condition sufferers, professional groups, supply-chains and so on.

* * *

When added together, obviously the number of different forums/votes a typical person would be involved in is considerable, and the overall atmosphere of AE would be lively and stimulating. Because everyone would be a daily participant in many complex issues, and hence have a high level of public knowledge, the character of debate would be far more like that of a scientific journal than that of today's idiotic radio phone-ins and childish public chat-shows.

Most of all, general democracy simply gives people their proper dignity. It should be a scandal that 99% of adults have no say over the basic facts that determine their lives. AE simply puts this right.

4. Non-monetary. AE does not use money.

Money is among the most obvious and taken-for-granted features of nearly every economy on earth today. It performs a number of different economics functions, and AE replaces each of these with systems that work without the distortions that money brings about.

As far as most individuals are concerned, money is what enforces limits on consumption - it plays the role of an allowance. It also serves to tie consumption closely to work - roughly, how much you work and the kind of work it is, determines how much, and what, you can consume.

In AE by direct contrast, people acquire and use whatever they wish, in whatever quantity they like. Everything is free. And so there is also no link between the amount, level, or type of work performed, and the volume of consumption. Working less, or in a more humble role, doesn't entitle you to any fewer goods. Where the general maxim of today's economy might be “Only take as much as you give” (at least in theory, since there are many who take a lot and give little), that of AE is that you contribute what you can, and take what you need.

Another function of money is to provide a measure of the value of different items and activities, allowing them to be compared in this respect. Thus, a chocolate bar has a roughly similar value to a newspaper, and about 100th of the value of a room in a cheap hotel. An hour's time consulting a medical specialist is worth about the same as a newborn puppy, or as ten novels. And so on.

Since there is no money in AE, equivalences of this kind are not possible. Although this seems as though it would be completely disabling for an economy, one of the reasons for abandoning money in the new system is the idea that measuring and equating totally different things in this manner is not in fact sensible.

Things are simply not commensurable in the way that the use of money implies. It makes no sense to turn the labor of a cobbler into a number, then equate it with the number representing the labor of the journalist. They are too different. It makes no sense to assign a number to a dressing-gown and on that basis say that it is equal to a tree, or a seat at a music concert. Again, there is nothing common to them which can serve for comparison, much less a 'unit' that can form the basis of arithmetic. This foundational irrationality is the starting-point for a whole slew of further absurdities involving money (which it is superfluous to list because they are well-known). It is further true that this practice of unnaturally quantifying things is insidious, and seeps into all other areas of life. Learning or knowledge is rated quantitatively (as a test score); all manner of things, from attractiveness, to cars to music are related ordinally (meaning they are ranked); statistics are used well beyond what is sensible.

The ostensible function of money-values in our system is that they allow economic decisions to be made - such as a car manufacturer deciding to use a lower grade of rubber in its tires to lessen the cost of the final product, a government deciding what proportion of its overall budget to allocate to healthcare spending, or a software company calculating that it must sell x units of its latest data-mining program in order to recoup the money invested in its development.

AE replaces this function of money – the accounting function - with a combination of: a) the use of the natural units and measures, in each case appropriate to the specific product or industry in question (i.e. gallons of oil, lines of code, area of woodland, hours of clinical attention, etc, or composites like units of bicycles or arts programs) with no single overarching measure; b) democratic structures of communication involving all the groups and agents participating in or affected by a particular line of activity, to yield production plans, investment priorities, job lists, research guidelines etc, i.e. particular project strategies; c) information-gathering agencies, belonging to each sector (and sub-sector and sub-sub-sector) and level of the economy, which study the activity of each area and provide the data necessary for 'b)' to occur; and d) individuals using the information provided by 'c)' to make judgments about the right economic course of action.

The information agencies provide data on resources – everything from milk-cow herd numbers, to square meters of available carpets of different kinds, to tonnes of prospective- and already-refined copper; likewise for labor – the numbers of people practicing dentistry, carpentry, research on 18th century German poetry, midwifery and so on. Information is also provided on other significant economic matters: the level of demand for each item or service – both at global, regional, and other geographic levels, and as split up between different industry sectors or uses – would be important, for example. Higher-level trends and patterns, further breakdowns of groups of users for particular services and so on, would also be very useful.

This data is what would then be used, by democratic structures, to make economic decisions. Suppose, for example, that a region learns that it is not producing enough eggs: a variety of sources – bakers, restaurants, confectioners – are reporting that ideally they would use more, if available. A number of scenarios are then imaginable. One is that the region's farms simply decide to produce more. In another, the farms advise that increasing production will require diverting resources from other lines, and so a further process occurs considering these changes and their ramifications on other industries. In another, the request might prompt the farms to state that current levels of egg production are unsustainable, and that consumption patterns need to be looked at.

In each case, the channels of communication would differ.

In the first, information merely goes from the information agency to, say, the regional farm body, and from there to individual farms.

The second case is a lot more complex since farms send back information to the agency, and this then initiates multiple further lines of communication to other industries and workplaces, many of which will probably send back information regarding consequences of changes they might have to make, and so on. This kind of circulation of information would simply form part of the daily patter of AE's economic coordination, much of which would not get beyond the realm of workplaces communicating with each other, and with information agencies, in the service of planning their activities. However, if the potential alteration of production schedules were sufficiently large for a sufficiently large number of other industries (which it would probably not be, in this case of a fairly small change in egg demand, but might be if, say, a sudden large drop in output was prompted by a widespread chicken virus) the matter would come up in the regional budget forum, participated in by everyone within that region. There – after processes of consideration described in the 'Democratic' section – a decision would be come to about the new shape of production.

In the third case, the farm might initiate a discussion within a regional forum directly. Or – like today – the matter might be thought to have deeper roots, and a process of discussion through various media might be begun.


A further function of money, or rather of the pattern of its flow, is the provision of information, which allows the co-ordination of the behavior of isolated economic agents. The classic example is where the price of something rises because the demand for it exceeds the supply, which then 'sends a signal' that more of the thing is needed. Although far more complex and sophisticated processes occur in the real world, the role that changing prices play in them is essentially the same.

Other than the various absurdities, bubbles, miscalculations, delayed responses, instances of price-rigging and so on, to which this system gives rise, the great problem is that it is one-dimensional: its 'language' is quantity, so it can only 'say' “up” or “down”. In other words it allows no precision; it communicates poorly, just as would human beings if all they were able to signal were 'stop' and 'go'. But of course humans have a far better system of communication available, namely natural language.

So the three elements outlined above replace this function of money. This means that, in the new system, economic decision are taken directly, rather than indirectly (through planning what is to be done by talking to one-another, rather than via the interpretation of the fluctuations of prices) and collectively rather than individually (participating agents communicate with each other and co-ordinate their behavior, rather than reacting, at second hand, to the effects of the actions of each other).


Its worth noting a point about the general character of people's behavior. Although everything is free in AE, people do not for that reason go out and grab as much as they can, always choosing the most highly-produced, expensive (in labor- and resource terms) version of anything they acquire. This is simply not an impulse engendered in people by the type of society that AE would be likely to bring about. Instead, people as a general rule acquire and use what they need (which does not rule out extravagance, just mindless acquisitiveness).

The same applies to workplaces. In most cases, there are many ways of doing the same job, or producing the same product, some requiring more resources, or more scarce- or high-quality resources than others. (A table can be made from mahogany and be hand-carved, or from pine and be machine-cut). It will be a virtue of work practice, and indeed in most cases a specific job or task, to be able to select the most appropriate resources, requiring just the right level of resource- and labor-expense, not more nor less.

Now, in order for either individuals or workplaces to be able to act in this way, they have to be able to compare the different options available to them. Today, this is done via prices – a person is able to select among a series of numbers. These numbers (in theory) aggregate all the resources and labor that have been expended in the production of the item, so (in theory) when a person selects a particular option they are making a judgment about the appropriate level of these things, for their purposes.

Since under AE there is no money, this is not possible. What is available instead - provided by the information agencies - is an array that specifies, in the natural units appropriate to each, the ingredient resource-elements and labor processes involved in the production of some thing. Working with these arrays is a specialist skill or task. Just as today within businesses, 'procurement' for each input the business uses – labor and all the various resources – is the job of specialists who 'know the market' for each of these constituent products, so also under AE.

For example, suppose that a mountain-bike manufacturer is selecting the material from which the bike's frame is going to be constructed. There are many possible materials – steel, aluminium, special alloys, carbon-fiber, special plastics, materials derived from organic matter, and more – that meet the intended performance- and design criteria, and so other considerations motivate which is chosen. Today, all else being equal, the one with the lowest number (i.e. the lowest price) would be purchased. Under AE, the mountain-bike manufacturers would turn to someone (or a group of people) familiar with these materials from an economic point of view. That familiarity means that they know the array of labor and resources necessary for the production of each material, and the wider economic situation relating to them.

The 'array' means all the labor and resources that go into producing the material, from the number of hours spent mining the iron necessary for the steel, to the research work involved in the fabrication of the special plastics, to the land used up in growing the plants used for the organic-derived materials. It is an “array” because it collects together a long list of factors, probably ordered according to importance. There is no common factor among all the elements of the array that would allow it to be reduced to a single number, and indeed, many of the elements of the array (such as for example the difficulty of mining work) would not be quantitative values at all.

The “wider economic situation” means for example the other claims for the use of particular resources and whether they are more urgent or deserving, whether there are expressed desires by workers to limit the use of a particular resource because it involves unpleasant labor, the polluting and recycling potential of it, and so on. It is on the basis of all these considerations that a judgment is made.

Of course, this materials expert is themselves going to be relying upon the judgments of many thousands of other experts, each of who will have assessed the arrays of economic data relating to all the inputs to the processes involved in the production of these materials (the rubber used in the tires of mining vehicles; the computing-time used in the analysis of the subatomic properties of the special alloys during their development).

These judgments are the foundation stones of Angel Economics. They are what its 'system' most basically consists of: interlinking chains and webs of considered judgments, some made by experts, many made through democratic forums.

In the case of individuals acquiring items for their own use, the person with the knowledge and experience necessary to make the judgments, or at least outline the necessary considerations, is (what we would today call) the retailer. In the case of democratic forums such as, say, local budget meetings, the judgments of many experts from a whole number of different walks of life will need to be consulted and pooled into the debate.

The individuals do not always have to be present in person, of course, nor come up with fresh decisions for each individual case. They can issue guidelines, which effectively condense the information contained in the arrays into a size and format that is accessible and useful to other people. Moreover, the whole panoply of expertise does not have to be brought to bear on every little transaction. For the most part, habit and 'the general social knowledge' carry people along.

* * *

Overall, the abolition of money in AE and its replacement by systems of direct, multi-dimensional communication and judgment, represent a great increase in sophistication in the system of economic control.

The abolition of money is another way of describing the abolition of exchange. There is no exchange under AE because there is no private property – exchange is the exchange of property. The replacement of money by direct communication is another way of describing the replacement of exchange with collaboration.

These changes mark a transition-point. Whereas, at low levels of sophistication, humans can get along alright either on their own or in relatively small groups (tribes, villages) that have merely 'external' relations with other groups through money, with the development of increasingly sophisticated technology, divisions of labor, social roles etc, humans become ever more integrated within a social fabric of immense complexity. Without an adequate means of economic communication, no precision in control and coordination is possible. AE supplies this means.

5. Free. People are free to do entirely what they want.

Today in most societies around the globe people are, on paper, free to choose what path to take in life. The government doesn't tell people what they must do. Nor, in advanced societies, are things so structured that children generally follow in the trade of their parents.

Nevertheless, in order to live at all they must of course earn a living by working. The problem is that for most people this necessity begins so early, takes up so much time, and its domination of the rest of their life is so complete, that as a matter of practical reality people are not free to do what they want at all. (There are other ways in which people's freedom is limited, of course – see previous sections - but this is the predominant one).

In this new economic system, by contrast, all the things you need to live are freely available, so there is no compulsion to work simply in order to survive. Instead, people engage in the work of their choice, and for the length of time that they desire.

It is also the case today that individuals tend to perform only one type of work, and also tend to work at a broadly constant hierarchical level. This is partly the result of natural limitations (humans simply do not have the capacity to become both skilled surgeons and mountaineers and sociologists and woodworkers and dance instructors etc) and differences (some have more natural ability than others and progress to the top of their profession on the strength of it).

However, natural human traits explain this pattern of work tasks only very limitedly. The economic system is responsible to a much greater degree, and in number of ways. To mention a few: the emphasis on maximizing value as the only economic concern encourages the formation of single-task jobs, inhabited by one individual, because this typically maximizes output; although such jobs typically disempower and brutalize the majority of people, that is actually an economic advantage because, as such, they can be more easily cajoled into the maximization of output; (at a less abstract level), lack of education means most people don't have the realistic chance of changing profession; for most people, finances are so tight, and free time so small, that retraining is not practical; the system is self-reinforcing, because professions are separated off from each other, meaning there is not much intermixing, and this then erects all sorts of social and personal barriers between them.

In the new system, because people are free to engage in the work of their choice, and the other present-day barriers just mentioned are largely absent, it is natural to expect that they would involve themselves in a wide variety of work. Specialization, and the prolonged pursuit of a single skill would still exist, since it is rewarding to do things well and this requires long experience and training. But specialization is compatible with a certain amount of variation of jobs, and a wide range of interests - in fact it has been shown many times to benefit from it. The kind of exclusive focus on one task by one person for most of their life, especially at the menial level, would fade away, since it is simply not a natural inclination.


So AE consists of the whole population voluntarily engaging in whatever work interests them. The exceptions to this are those tasks which are unpleasant or boring, which nobody would do if they could help it. Although these would be reduced to a minimum under AE (see 'Technologically sophisticated' section) to some degree they would continue to exist. These jobs still get done under AE, through a general agreement that since, if they were not done, society would simply grind to a halt, and since it would not be fair for only some people to do them, everyone benefits by taking on an equal share of them.

This is not a rule 'imposed' from the outside, or by some State – it would simply be what everyone would recognize as fair. And in any case, only a very small amount of time would be spent by each individual on these tasks, because they are shared out amongst such a large number.


People would likely collect into groups and common workplaces just as today, but the basis of their doing so would be very different. Today, people collect together as employees of a single owner. Organizations amalgamate huge numbers of people together because that is the end result of competition among firms – typically, the larger a company is, the greater its economies of scale, efficiency, domination of the sector and command over input prices.

Under AE, people would collect together into groups and institutions insofar as that was thought a good idea – where “good” includes criteria of efficiency and productivity, but also many other values. Some organizations would be large, but it is probable that many would be rather smaller.

Hierarchies of command would probably still exist, since there are many occasions on which this is practically necessary (think of a teacher and their pupils; an orchestra and their conductor; an expedition's leader; a project coordinator and those working on its various component parts). However, not only would such hierarchies probably be far less prevalent, but also the reason for their existence would, again, be other than is the case today – where matters of power, control, subjugation and ego play a central role.

* * *

The freedom under AE is genuine and practical, rather than limited and largely ideological as is the case today. The removal of the imperative to work in order to survive represents a step forward in civilization, away from the condition that has existed since the beginning of animal existence. The fact that people engage in their work freely and voluntarily would obviously mean, for most people, an immeasurable improvement in their daily condition of life

6. Multiform.

Society is divided up into various relatively distinct domains. Each have different governing values. For example, in science, truth is the paramount value, and the effort to discover truth in the various sectors of reality yields a further set of subsidiary values and practices (varying with each discipline) that define the sciences - repeatability by third parties, observation, clarity of statement, evidence, coherence with- and derivability from already-established facts etc. The realm of personal relations is obviously very different, characterized as it is by such values as trust, friendliness, fidelity and so on. The spheres of say, art, or combat, or education are all quite different again.

Problems occur when these values are corroded, or when the central values of one such relatively-distinct field are imported into another, and it is characteristic of today's economy that it tends to make this happen.

Consider an example from medicine. As private, profit-maximizing entities, pharmaceutical companies are forced to behave in ways contradicting the central values of the medical vocation: to try to sell as many products as possible, even to those who do not require them; to overstate the effectiveness of products, and generally engage in misinformation for commercial gain; to seek to rubbish the products of competitors; to block access by others to medical knowledge owned by the company. And so on. In other domains, the erosion of the integrity of the values that structure them is more subtle. Take grammar. Superficially, grammar consists of the rules specifying how words should be ordered. In fact, once it is recognized that grammatical elements are also basic metaphysical categories – time (tense), relation (prepositions), identity (subject) and so on - it becomes apparent that, more profoundly, the grammar governing a person's speech or writing gives expression to a philosophical world-view. The implication is that a fall in grammatical standards is actually a degradation in the depth and quality of humans' involvement in reality - the ecological connections tying humans with the world become less finely tuned and more crude. Such a fall in grammatical standards has certainly been claimed, along with equivalent changes in similar markers of what might be called existential health – morality, mental stability, attention-span and so on. The cited causes are very diverse – anything from the growth of cities (and hence 'urban culture') to television, to the decline of the church, to the influence of the 60's – but it would not be difficult to find at the root of most of them the pressures exerted by the fundamental drive to increase value-return.

At the most abstract level, the reason why this corrosion of value-domains occurs is because in a competitive market economy, society's resources will, as a matter of logic, tend over time to accrue to those entities generating most profit (therefore having most to invest, therefore out-competing rivals, therefore winning more market share, therefore generating more profit etc); but – and this is the crucial point - there is no necessary connection whatever between the values involved in maximizing profit, and those values proper to the domains through which that profit is made. Therefore the cannibalizing of these distinct domains by the imperatives of profit-maximization is an inevitability. The deeper truth of what occurs here, then, is the molding by one value-system of all others, after its own image.

(This, incidentally, goes some way to diagnosing what has been called the autistic character of most contemporary economic theory. This character is most visible, in our times, in discussions over how to reduce global warming, when the argument is conducted purely in terms of money-cost).

Under Angel Economics, value-domains retain their specific identity. In the first place, this is because there is no particular pressure – like that deriving from the competitive market – for them to be undermined. But more positively, it is because they are actively strengthened by several features of the system.

The most important of these is the use of natural units (see 'Non-Monetary' section). Money is the conduit through which the flattening of value-domains occurs, because it forces all values to be expressed in terms of a single measure. As described above, AE discards money, and instead, where resources must be measured for the purposes of economic calculation, this is done in units proper to the particular domain. The discovery and use of these units would therefore act as a constant fortification of the distinct values to which they give expression.

A second source is the voluntary nature of the transactions that occur under AE. For example, there is no 'sales effort' involving the need to maximize the customer-base for a product, and therefore erase any peculiarities that might limit its potential audience. At the other end, since those working in a domain do so of their own volition and desire, they will continually reinforce and extend its central values, just as successive generations of artists deepen and enrich their medium in its ability to bear beauty, and scientists build on the work of their co-workers extending the scope of truth.

* * *

Maintenance of the integrity of value-domains is just one aspect of the 'multiform' character of the new system. The freedom of people to engage in all the lines of work that interest them would promote 'multi-sided' human development; the removal of the value-centralizing and -concentration tendencies inherent in a competitive market would result in a far greater diversity of projects and work organizations; the effect on human geography would be similar, because of the removal of one of the main forces promoting urban concentration – settlements of lots of different sizes, with a variety of functions and a diversity of ways of doing things, would grow up; the removal of the necessity of work would also remove one of the principal factors enforcing personal conformity, and so a great flowering of character and personality types would follow, as people explore ways of life according to their own judgments of worth; technological inventions could begin to serve a far greater diversity of needs, once the imperative of profit-maximization was no longer present. And so on.

This is all in direct contrast to tendencies that can be observed today: town centers becoming identical; mass-cultural objects becoming the same the world over; species extinction; the flattening of dialects; the incorporation of subcultures; global advertising; global product roll-outs, and on and on. Uniformity is a characteristic of today's economy.

The overall picture of AE in this respect, then, is of a system that proliferates forms, just as in a complex ecosystem. In alternative language, one might say that occupation of the space of possibilities is dense, or alternatively again, that a multitude of trajectories of development is pursued simultaneously.

* * * * *

These six features define the basic structure of Angel Economics. (Its not rigorous – there is plenty of overlap between them). Of course, basing economic activity on them would have many secondary consequences. These can be imagined and explored, but there are three which it seems particularly important to mention explicitly.

1. Technologically sophisticated. Angel Economics will lead to faster, deeper and wider scientific and technological progress.

Scientific progress has been the hallmark of the past 200 years, and since this is also the period when our modern economy has matured, it is evident that it is the major source of this progress.

There are reasons to think, however, that Angel Economics will be even better in this respect, and also that the development it promotes would not suffer the negative sides that frequently attach to scientific progress today.

The first point to note, to this end, is that currently only a minuscule proportion of the population are actually engaged in any kind of scientific research or technological development – easily less than 1% - while around 80% of the population are engaged in relatively menial, repetitious work that makes no contribution whatever to the advance of knowledge or technique.

Under the new system, people are free to engage in any work they like, and since science is an enriching pursuit, one can expect that many people would engage in it once given this opportunity. Even at a conservative estimate of 10% of the population actively engaged, this is still a vast increase, the effects of which would be staggering.

Quantitative changes often lead to qualitative ones. It is certainly reasonable to expect new disciplines to emerge, and existing ones to be transformed - many disciplines today have a tiny number of researchers, quite incapable collectively of properly tackling the full extent of their field. Questions or projects which today seem as though they could not even be attempted might easily be solved, once all the steps of supporting research from combined disciplines are brought together: modeling what the first humans might have said, revealing their world-view and forming part of an evolution of human consciousness; studying and viewing chemical reactions occurring in the body in real time, making medical intervention an absolutely precise art; making habitation of the solar system, and probing deep space, an everyday affair.

A subsidiary point is that today, most of the population is practically scientifically illiterate – due, at bottom, to a simple lack of time – and that as a result, the general culture is scientifically poor. This has a severe dragging effect on progress, in numerous subtle ways (consider, for example, that one of the main reasons cited as to why electric cars have been so slow to be developed is that 'the consumer won't accept them'; or consider that the vast majority of technical improvements to inventions come not from their designers but from their users). Under Angel Economics, it is reasonable to expect that even those not actively engaged as scientists or engineers would nevertheless have a high degree of scientific literacy, simply because it is an interesting facet of culture.

The effects of this would be huge, although like all such large-scale cultural changes, impossible to predict, due to the number of variables and unknowns. But one can speculate.

i. Much social science currently functions as a means of controlling (Sociology in e.g. public policy) or manipulating (Psychology in e.g. advertising) the public, but if the findings of these sciences were generally known and internalized, the public would grow greatly in sophistication, and be able to act much more as a self-conscious entity.

ii. Degradation of the natural environment would be far less likely among a population that was generally scientifically literate, since there would be billions of eyes and ears, keyed into the processes of the natural world around them, and capable of registering and interpreting any significant change.

iii. Society could be technologically infused down to the smallest level – any science fiction fantasy can be imported here – since a technically literate public would be fully able to interact with, and tend to, such an environment.


The second major point to note concerns the direction and character of the scientific progress that occurs under today's system, and how this would differ in AE.

The main spurs to scientific and technological progress under the present system are: 1) the development of new products for new markets or the further exploitation of existing markets; 2) the development of tools that cut labor time and hence lower the cost of the final product; 3) the military.

1) tends to lead to extremely conservative development and limited fundamental research, for a great number of reasons (the risks of launching completely new products often outweigh those involved in making minor modifications to existing products; the fact that much fundamental research has no immediate commercial application; the just-noted scientific and technological illiteracy of the consuming public, etc); 2) is a big factor in technological change, but the fact that it is fundamentally a drive to efficiency and rationalization leaves its mark. It leads to manipulation for pre-given ends as the characteristic utilization of scientific knowledge rather than exploration of the space of possibilities; and while 3) does encourage path-breaking research and leads to spin-offs that have general application, it is obvious that the vast majority of what is done under this category has a basically destructive aim.

For obvious reasons it is difficult to say how things would look in the absence of these distortions, but there are a few points to note.

i. A different stance toward the world would be likely to grow prevalent. Using science in the service of building an overall philosophical picture of things (instead of merely as a tool of control, manipulation and engineering – useful as these are in their place), and to live in it more fully, would become far more general than they are today. Extending our comprehending reach into reality expands thereby the environments we can inhabit, experience, intellectually explore, or just glimpse – illustrative examples might be the relationship a field zoologist builds with a wolf pack; the immersion into deep space that a cosmologist achieves with the aid of a powerful telescope; the familiarity that a mathematician achieves with the landscape of numbers. These would become everyday aspects of everyone's lives, rather than the activities of a few specialists.

ii. Instead of technological applications being developed overwhelmingly due to commercial considerations (i.e. with regard to monetary value) the full range of human values could be brought to bear in determining the paths of technological development that are explored. There are endless illustrations of what this might mean in practice. At the more mundane level science could, for example, be put in the service of making urban environments and densely populated areas more beautiful, less abrasive, and perhaps more habitable to other animals. Or, devices enabling the elderly and the disabled to lead a less restricted existence, which receive relatively little attention today (compare the aids that do exist, to the sophistication of military hardware, for example) could be developed. More imaginatively, what about technologies that enhanced people's interpersonal sensitivity, allowing them better to understand and interpret each other? Or systems that help to train better ethical judgment?

iii. The two previous points relate to the direction of research, but its level can also be brought into focus. There exists today a massive reserve of undeveloped technology. Whereas, during the Industrial Revolution, practical development kept pace with fundamental discovery – as soon as trains were possible, they were made – today, due to the drag exerted by the factors noted above, the technology with which most people live their lives is achingly primitive, when measured against the vast store of fundamental knowledge possessed by the natural sciences (to say nothing of the social sciences). Consequently, one of the more obvious things to expect, with the new system, is a great period in which everyday life becomes enriched, simplified and generally put on a higher plane, through a huge wave of technological improvements. As to what these might be, an interesting place to look is science fiction, or the many 'futurology' programs of 30-50 years ago which predicted such things as buckminsterfuller-type green dome houses, personal flying machines, and instant foreign language instruction kits.

iv. A specific area that is likely to receive a great deal of attention is the mechanisation and of boring or unpleasant work, and the improvement in the quality of work that can't be mechanised. This would be a high priority since everyone would be engaged in this work - even if only a small amount – and therefore would experience the benefit of such technology keenly (in contrast to today, where those performing such work generally have no control over investment).


A final point concerns the imminent convergence of the biosciences, nanotechnology, and computer science/AI. This is undoubtedly the most important social development of the present time, because it will alter the premises of human life – how long we live, what our capacities are, the degree to which we can modify ourselves, the control we have over the natural world. It will also result in technological devices that are more powerful and sophisticated than anything seen before, by many orders of magnitude.

If this occurs within the present economic system, which contains so many destructive, irrational and unjust tendencies, it seems not unlikely that those tendencies will merely be enhanced. Of course, this is already beginning: the use of AI in surveillance, military hardware, border control; use of biosciences in weaponry, increased intensity of animal exploitation, in superficial techno-fixes to global warming, in medical applications that disproportionately benefit the those with a lot of money, and so on.

Under the new system, the full revolutionary potential of the advances could be harnessed. They would be far more likely to be used in a humane manner. Their use to transform humankind into something higher and less animal would have the backing of an engaged, scientifically literate and exploratory public; frivolous applications would have far less social motivation behind them.

In this connection, it is worth making a remark about Raymond Kurzweil's Singularity prediction – that we are only around 40 years from the point when human enhancement/artificial intelligence development, and their fusion with reality itself, becomes complete, with a resultant hyper-intelligence so great, that it becomes impossible for us with our limited brains to confidently imagine the trajectory of further development.

The prediction is founded on the observation that the rate of technological progress is exponential rather than linear. It seems not unlikely that some large change of economic structure such as AE represents would be necessary to maintain this trend into the future - just as, of course, economic changes have been pivotal to technological progress in the past. The addition of hundreds of millions of active minds pursuing research, and the expansion of the means and fidelity of communication between them, is exactly the kind of revolution in social fundamentals that would be capable of keeping human historical development on this track.

2. Two-hour work day

There are several factors which would lead to a great increase in leisure time under the new system, relative to today.

1. The system would not include a great mass of unemployed (in developed countries) and an even greater mass in absolute poverty (in developing countries). And so for obvious reasons, once the labor of billions more people begins to be utilized, the burden on the rest of the population would decrease proportionately.

2. The productivity of those who are in work would increase. It is obvious that, if work is boring, unpleasant, or in some other way objectionable, it will be done slowly and poorly. Under the present system, the vast majority of jobs fall under this description. Clearly, to some extent this is simply due to the nature of work, and cannot be changed. But it is just as much due to tendencies of the present system:

i. Maximizing value implies rationalization and maximizing efficiency, which in turn tend to translate into jobs involving simple routines performed by one person. Such jobs are, naturally, extremely boring, with a resulting loss of productivity. Attempts are then made to mitigate this by systems of coercion (line managers, team leaders etc) and incentives (bonuses etc). Not only is this only ever partially successful, but of course, all of these extra layers themselves represent a loss of productivity.

ii. The people in charge of constructing jobs (i.e. a set of tasks needing to be performed by an individual), and in control of their conditions (e.g. whether there are ways their unpleasantness can be lessened) are very rarely the ones actually doing those jobs. This obviously weakens the pressure to make them less onerous.

iii. Because, under the present system, you must work, on pain of starvation, and there is always at any one time a substantial level of unemployment and therefore 'demand' for work (obviously “demand” is quite an inaccurate word, given this fact that it is essentially a coercive relationship) the potential economic pressure to improve job conditions is undermined.

iv. Most jobs under the present system involve very little personal control. Lack of control itself make a job less pleasant, and removes the necessary means of improving it. But it also implies that these jobs are of a certain type, which tends to be associated with tediousness and unpleasantness.

Under the new system, where everybody does whatever work they like, clearly the level of enjoyment of work cannot fail to be transformed (as a logical truth), and along with it the average level of productivity. As a consequence, if everyone is more productive, then the hours of work required to yield a given level of output will decrease proportionately.

A supplemental point concerns those unpleasant, boring, or dangerous jobs performed by everybody (see 'Free' section). With each person having to devote only a small amount of time to these jobs, their onerousness will decrease a great deal. Further, this arrangement means there is an incentive, felt across the whole of society, to mechanize, develop labour-saving technologies, or in other ways curtail these jobs to their bare minimum. Likewise, an incentive exists also to make them more pleasant, either through introducing new technologies, or other arrangements. Over time, therefore, these jobs are bound to improve in quality, decrease in extent, and to some degree be eliminated altogether. In most instances, it is likely that this will translate into greater productivity.

3. There would be far less wasted labor. Under the current system, a great deal of labor is performed which is objectively useless, but is required by the peculiarities of the system. Advertising is a good example. It is not uncommon for as much labor to be expended on the marketing and marketing-associated aspects of a product, as on its manufacture and distribution. Advertising is an essential part of any system based on a competitive market, but the new system would have no need for it. There are many similar industries – insurance, finance, PR, many branches of law, to name a few – that together comprise a considerable part of the economy.

There are other huge sources of wasted labor. In the present system, the incentive is simply to sell, regardless of the greater social worth of the product. Consequently, the economy – and the wider social world – is saturated with junk. Junk easily outstrips the amount of useful production, probably by several times, and obviously implies an enormous amount of needless work. Since the new system includes no similar imperative, there is no reason to expect useless objects to be produced. Any trip to a junk yard, dump, or landfill site would convey that the quantity of labor this would save is tremendous.

4. The labor devoted to dealing with all the social problems that have their roots in the inadequacies of the economic system would also be a source of considerable potential saving. This includes crime and all the resources devoted to tackling it (the vast majority of crime is associated with poverty); ill health and the massive resources devoted to it (much ill health is traceable either directly or indirectly to features of the economic system); poor education standards; the degradation of the environment, and so on.


The combined effect of all these factors would be immense. The useful production of today's economy could probably be matched by one or two hours of labor per day per person, under the new system. Of course, it is unlikely that this would be the option most people would take, but it illustrates powerfully the greater health and productivity of the new system.

3. Civilized.

Humans are malleable. They can become refined and noble, or brutalized and coarse, and although genetic endowment plays its fair part in determining this, the environment in which they live is just as important. The present system promotes numerous forms of barbarism, across the entire cultural, and wider social field. Everyone is well aware of it, and has their own personal illustrations of the progressive debasement of humanity.

This is a tendency which has many sources, often quite subtle, but even the most esoteric can be derived from the simple fact that selfishness, mindless competition, deceit, superficiality, short-term thinking, catering to the animal instincts of man, and so on, are all axiomatic elements of the present system.

The new system promotes quite different motivations. As with the other secondary changes, the consequences of a widespread diffusion of cultural sophistication and general civilization are difficult to imagine, beyond a certain point, although one can predict certain things.

Obviously, one can expect to fade away the general trashiness, cynicism, bleakness, vulgarity, hopelessness and unhealthiness that infects most of the Western world in everything from TV to architecture to manners to bodily fitness – a brief nightmare. But, more positively, a few remarks can be made.

Ever since the beginnings of the general dissolution of organized religion and the rise of science, there has been a huge hole in the middle of human existence. We have discovered we are mere gene-repositories, or on a more fundamental level mere energy-dissipating collocations, in a pointless universe. Whether we live a happy and successful life, or decide to end it all in the next few hours - in the present cosmological perspective, is indifferent.

Of course there have been countless attempts to forge a new perspective, and no lack of profound insight. The problem is that, when this goes against the grain of the general culture, it suffers inevitable distortion, constant wearing away, confinement to a minority, and so on.

It would be childish to suggest that, under a new economic system, the riddles of existence would automatically receive solutions, like tricky engineering problems. Yet if all individuals across society were able to cultivate their inclinations to the exploration of existence, and to understanding the world, it is not difficult to see that a renewed sense of humanity's purpose might result.

Another very notable feature of those areas in which culture does thrive today, is the lack of ambition; more specifically, the lack of ambition to transcend the given mileux. At the beginning of the last century, the avante gardes of Modernism sought, in every medium of expression, to construct new languages, techniques, and a new purpose for their art forms. The fidelity to artistic truth that they maintained carried them into territory far removed from both tradition and the given human world, just as a microscope delivers us into a dimension beyond the usual restrictions of the senses. Whilst this impulse is kept alive by a scattered few, it is striking how the main line of the post-modern has become incorporated into the market economy, institutionally and normatively. Great architecture acts as geographical advertising, priming the value of certain regions and cities before full-scale investment; stellar artworks are commodities of financial speculation to the point that the content of the art itself courses with the spirit of money; fiction has largely abandoned the unyielding drive of experimentation of the beginning of the century – to do so limits its market, so is non-commercial; non-fiction is almost entirely absorbed into the academy, which has in turn become a factory for value-production; music is subject to constant capture – popular music by the recording/publishing industry, classical music by its institutionalization into a comfortable establishment, and even dance music by the club business, and manifold legal regulations.

Under the new system, where the economy consists of people pursuing the work that interests them, there is no similar tendency for the limitation and corruption of cultural forms. People dedicated to their art or craft would be able to pursue it without obstruction. So the self-transcending impulse taken up with such force by Modernism, but which has become progressively degraded, would receive new life. There are several areas, apparent even today, that lie in wait for this impulse: first, the transhuman technologies that result from the convergence of advanced biology, nanotechnology, and computer science (mentioned above); second, the proliferation of psychedelic compounds, which seem to allow humans to peer into utterly alien aspects of reality, and rise above the limitations which evolution has placed on our cognitive equipment; third, mega particle physics and mega astrophysics, which are continually revolutionizing our cosmological view. All promise to take humanity into something beyond what it has been – precisely the Modernist project. They will do so whether or not there is a change of economic environment, but not necessarily under control by values consciously chosen and pursued. The potential difference in outcome if these frontiers are explored by free individuals following their interest and sense of wonder, rather than out of a desire to make money, could be between something sublime, and something monstrous.


As a more general point, AE involves a degree of reconception of what 'civilization' involves. From its beginnings in the Middle East and north Africa, through the great Empires of the Chinese, South Americans and Romans, up to today's continental States, there is a great stability in the basic form of civilization, as an island of order maintained by a relative monopoly of the use of force. The maintenance of order and the general 'raising of man' involves all manner of barbaric institutions and forms of behavior, such as the litany of terrible techniques that constitute 'punishment', the great crimes that go under the name of the administration of justice, or the slavery and forced labor involved in the monuments that give civilization its physical form. The realist has looked upon all this as the necessary evil for turning a frustrated, uncomfortable wild animal into a rule-abiding, promise-keeping, truth-sensitive being.

Whatever truth there was in this perspective, it feels outdated today. The masses, over whom rule was exercised to yield order, don't exist any more. It is not that the vast majority of humanity have been turned into rational agents. But the old institutions of civilization are now responsible for far more in the way of obstruction and keeping people down, than they are a force of improvement. If most people today still live in a condition uncomfortably close to the apes, this is the fault of the tiny group who rule, not their justification.

The basic change of perspective underlying Angel Economics is the notion that people are capable today of organizing themselves, and doing so without resort to the barbaric use of physical pain, or childish notions about the need to for a 'leader' with special, semi-divine qualities. Similarly, man is now sufficiently grown up that he is capable, for example, of moderating his consumption in line with his need, and of having a sense for what needs to be done for the good of his society. These are no longer things that need to be forced upon him by some artificial system (money), or sneaked in behind his back (the "Hidden Hand"). Overall, the change is from the view that civilization is something that must be stamped down upon humanity, to one where it is something that it is possible to mutually construct. This sentiment, of course, has existed for a long time. But actually embodying it in a workable structure has not been so common. This is what Angel Economics aims to rectify.