Postcapitalism. The beginning of the end?

Paul Mason, Economics Editor of Channel 4, has a book out (‘Postcapitalism: A Guide To Our Future‘, Allen Lane £16.99). In this month’s  Marketing (Nov ’15) it gets a fair amount of comment. And so far it has an average of four stars amongst Amazon’s reviewers (46 reviewers as of today), plus a positive and detailed review by David Runciman in The Guardian (15 Aug ’15).

They are both extensive commentaries and it’s a heavyweight book, judging by the breadth and depth of sources he namechecks: from Shakespeare to Marx, to – would you believe – Kondratiev’s long-wave theory. No, I’ve not read that one either. So I won’t go on regurgitating the views of other any further, as I want to dwell on one of the main points that maybe all we marketers should be dwelling on.

It appears that Marketers may not in future have much in the way of ‘product’ to market. There is a shift from revenue-based marketing to sharing. If you are a manufacturer that scoffs at that notion, what are you doing about 3D printing? And before those in the service or knowledge-based sectors are overcome with smugness, this means you too. When was the last time you or I subscribed to a magazine like ‘Which? Or indeed any other publication?  How many of us feel we any longer need an Independent Financial Advisor for advice on pensions, insurance,  savings etc.? We no longer need experts. We rely on each other: on an inchoate, anonymous but nonetheless respected group of peers to advise or validate almost anything we buy.

In fact, consider this very piece. So far, absolutely everything I have read about Mr Mason’s book has been ‘free’. In the public domain there is a fair chunk of stimulating knowledge. All gratis. Eventually I might have to buy the book, having also thought carefully about whether an amateur or professional review holds more weight, although I am a little in awe of  Paul Mason’s learning. And a little learning goes a long way when a very knowledgeable reviewer can ‘gut’ the book for me for free. The rest, on the broader subject of capitalism and socialism in their various forms, I got from Wikipedia and my own hazy recollection of my university Politics lectures. Neither are perfect, but who needs perfectionism anyway?

And maybe it gets worse. We are increasingly uncomfortable with buying from new. We share or exchange furniture, garden tools, car journeys, even restaurant meals  – much to the consternation of the Parisian restaurant owners amongst others. Although, to be fair, in that case you aren’t eating in restaurants but in someone’s home. I knew someone who was strapped for cash but loved eating out of home. She regularly went to these in Manchester and loved it. But the point is clear: ecological guilt, straightened times  and a free knowledge base  – courtesy of the internet –  means an inexorable move towards the question: “why am I PAYING for this? Can I get it free, or simply for as long as I need it?’

It’s long been the default thinking of the anarchist or nihilist, but the respectable middle classes, on whom the whole edifice of capitalism rests upon? See, socialism is sweeping from the very left to the middle and maybe well beyond, right into the very heartland of people brought up on phrases such as ‘you get what you pay for’, ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch’ and so on.  Of course, we could spend a lot of time refining what ‘capitalism’ and ‘socialism’ really mean, but deep down, I suspect that most of us are beginning to feel different about the acquisitive society we have spent most of our lives in.

So can you think of a product or service, be it public or private sector, that doesn’t aspire to having some sort of revenue objective behind it? Money makes the world go round. Marketers invest in selling a product or service, hoping to get a return on what they are selling. Maybe building a brand rooted in ‘value’ along the way. So if in future there are increasingly fewer products for which consumers will willingly part with their cash, where does that leave marketers – and business in general? What do you think?

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