Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Paul Mason's Postcapitalism - A Detailed Critique - Chapter 5(4)

A New Technocratic Elite

Paul discusses the work of management guru Peter Drucker, who was also a student of Joseph Schumpeter. Drucker believed that information technology was changing some of the fundamental dynamics of capitalism, in relation to social and economic relations, and the politics built upon them. At the age of 90, in 1993, Drucker published his book, Post-Capitalist Society, in which he set out these ideas. 

Theories of post-capitalism had been produced before then. Hayek, in 1944, in The Road to Serfdom, had imagined that there was a synergy between the managers of large corporations in the West, with the bureaucrats in the East. James Burnham, in The Managerial Revolution, cited by Hayek, put forward the same thesis of the development of a new bureaucratic-collectivist ruling class. It formed the basis of the ideas of Burnham and Shactman's followers in the petit-bourgeois Third Camp that split from Marxism, in the late 1930's.  In the 1960's, Hayek's colleague, at the LSE, Ralf Dahrendorf, put forward his own post-capitalist thesis, along similar lines. 

If the other theories were based upon the rise of a managerial elite, Drucker's thesis was based more upon the rise of an intellectual or technological elite; an elite that was enabled to make knowledge and information more productive. Drucker believed that individuals within this elite could and would have to be trained to make connections, in their brains, that linked together information across a range of disciplines. 

As Paul points out, in fact, rather than this happening in the brains of individuals, it occurs in the collective brain of the network. Increasingly, computer power means that it occurs in the analysis of big data by powerful computers, able to identify connections that even large numbers of networked humans would not be able to identify. Part of the reason this becomes possible is that old hierarchical structures, in corporations are flattened out. Information previously hoarded in silos begins to be shared and linked, as the silos themselves are networked. A metaphor for that is the way the old card index, which was the basis for the first computer databases, is replaced by the relational database, which, back in the 1980's, revolutionised the power, usefulness and speed of access to existing stored information. By the 1990's, optical disc storage, and faster processing, meant that Document Image Processing (DIP) systems could store vast amounts of data, with the ability to index on every word, and to quickly retrieve documents on that basis. It was a forerunner of internet search engines. 

And today the development of artificial intelligence and neural networks means that humans themselves can be removed from the process, with incredible amounts of data analysed and the connections and correlations identified where no human could ever have even dreamt they existed. For example, it's now possible for a computer to analyse an image of a retina, and to predict whether someone is likely to develop a range of diseases. Similar analyses of blood is making possible early detection of a range of cancers, and so on. 

Paul argues that the kind of elite that Drucker envisaged emerging as the representative of this new mode of production can be seen in the “T-shirted techno-bourgeoisie of the early twenty-first century.” If capitalism continues for the next fifty years on the basis of a fifth long wave, driven by information, then these are the people we should expect it to produce as its leaders, Paul argues. I disagree, but I will leave my main comments on that until covering later chapters in the book. Suffice it to say that, in the post-war period, what became apparent to, and worried Hayek, was the rise of the actual functioning capitalists, the day to day professional managers, increasingly drawn from the educated working-class, and themselves organised in the various white collar, often radical, trades unions. Yet, contrary to Hayek's fears, and the thesis of Dahrendorf, they never did exercise control over capital. The political power of the bourgeoisie, as with the landed aristocracy before them, continued to hold sway after their social function had disappeared. That political power enabled them to frame company law so as to appoint their own representatives to pursue their interests above those of the companies they owned the shares of. Indeed, it was that which played a large part in shaping the development over the last 30 years. 

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