Paul Mason's new book argues there's a crisis around the cornerby Tom Clark / June 10, 2019 / Leave a comment
In Clear Bright Future the TV economics editor turned socialist campaigner Paul Mason offers a tour d’horizon of political economy which is a bit baffling—but important.
The baffling bit reflects the book’s many diversions. Well read on everything from machine learning to the roots of totalitarianism, Mason explores it all while adding vivid reportage from far-flung street protests, and wry asides about what Kate Moss’s latest perfume betrays about the culture. Some of the byways elucidate urgent connections: such as the links between online gaming, social media misogyny and the far-right. They are not badly written either: one on the philosophy of physics recalls the science detours in an Ian McEwan novel. But it can be tough to recall where we’re headed.
Despite the winding route, though, there is a core argument. Namely, that 40 years of neo-liberalism—reasonably defined as competition being pushed into every last corner of life—leaves us sorely exposed to the looming robot takeover of work and society. Why? Because we’ve grown so used to thinking of ourselves as cogs in a market machine, passively responding to egoistic incentives. We no longer have a sense of agency, still less of freedom to reshape our destiny. So when the robots nudge and surveil on behalf of elites (or one day for their own reasons) the great danger is capitulation and meek compliance.
An unshakable humanist faith runs through this book: even those apparent philosophical digressions are really an attempt to rescue free will. There are flickers of an old left faith too: the title is from Trotsky, Marx is mostly vindicated, and crisis is around every corner. But with his humane stress on the good life, Mason defies the caricature of the Corbyn left as reheated Soviet Communism. Corbynism is also routinely charged with wanting to “take us back to the 1970s.” But here its leading thinker engages with tomorrow’s economy with an urgency that’s not currently matched on the right.
Clear Bright Future: A Radical Defence of the Human Being by Paul Mason (Allen Lane, £20)