The Ontario Ministry of Education has moved quickly to create a financial literacy module in a revamped Careers course in response to pressure from the Toronto Youth Cabinet and business lobby to close the financial literacy gap within our current system. But there is little discussion at the moment about closing the critical economic literacy gap—resulting in students leaving high school without a historical context for capitalism and whether or not it will be able to effectively respond to current and future pressures and crises, often of the system’s own making.
Paul Mason’s Postcapitalism makes the case that capitalism is about to end; we are not merely in the midst of what Russian economist Kondratieff called a long cycle’s waning years before a fresh cycle starts again. Mason argues that neoliberalism’s successful suppression of workers and the public sphere has extended this cycle; long enough that it has helped to consolidate the notion of capitalism as inevitable. Invoking Marx’s lesser-known thought exercise “Fragment on Machines,” Mason claims the root cause of the pending demise is the disruption of the pricing mechanism through elimination of scarcity via information technology, accelerated by demographic realities, climate change and inequality shocks.
If the system is about to collapse, he argues, we would be best advised to plan a transition to a postcapitalist system, rather than risk the chaos of an immediate collapse and subsequent vacuum. That system would have several major goals and mechanisms, including limiting global warming, stabilizing the finance system by socializing it, and applying information-rich technologies to solve major social challenges, presented in a Wikipedia-like vision of the future that Mason doesn’t quite flesh out enough. The last goal would be to transition to an automated economy, complete with basic income and voluntary work, in which economic management is a matter of “energy and resources, and not capital and labour.”
If Mason is right, then the masses need to start dismantling the current power structures that disproportionately benefit a select few. For there to be on-the-ground momentum, there needs to be a collective consciousness that creates a rapid shift in governance away from the current concentration of wealth and power. A weakness of the book is that this critical, difficult, phase isn’t mapped out clearly. It is, however, excellent for contextualizing our current moment, and as such, would be an essential read for any educator interested in closing Ontario’s critical economic literacy gap in the classroom.