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PostCapitalism: Envisaging A Shared Future

Three key figures in the world of politics and economics came together under the dome of St Paul’s to discuss before a capacity audience the thesis in Paul Mason’s recent book

  • Paul Mason, Economics Editor for Channel 4 News; author of  PostCapitalism: A Guide to Our Future  (keynote)
  • Ann Pettifor, Director of Policy Research in Macroeconomics : PRIME
  • Phillip Blond, Director of ResPublica

Revd Canon Mark Oakley, Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral, welcomed the audience on 2 November with a challenging reminder:

“Many look at the Church and think that we’re ultimately concerned with how to be loyal to the past…it seems to me that where people of religious faith and other commitments and good will can urgently come together is around the more important question: how can we be loyal to the future? Not just our own future, but a shared future including those who have become marginalised through inequality and poverty or suffer injustice.”


The event was moderated by Elizabeth Oldfield, Director of Theos - familiar for her regular presentations on Thought for the Day - who welcomed the panel to a “debate that needs little contextualising.” She reassured the audience, whilst warning the speakers,  that any jargon used throughout the event should be explained so everyone would be fully equipped to comment.

The keynote presentation from Paul Mason summarised his recently-published view of modern capitalism and its contradictions, covering a wide range of topics to provide evidence on the view that “[capitalism] is a complex and adaptive system that has lost its capacity to adapt. The reason it has done so, is because of the rise of information technology.”

He laid out a vision for future society that could strive to be “a society of abundance, community, collaboration in which the human is valued and hierarchy is shrunken.” He closed with a call for participation in the creation of this new society, because:

“The outcome of it [will be] determined by a human revolution…we don’t know what the outcome will be because it depends on how human beings themselves take the network technology and evolve…there is a new kind of human being emerging and they will determine the outcome of the long transition.”

Ann Pettifor, Director of Policy Research in Macroeconomics (PRIME) and recently announced economic advisor to the Labour Party, challenged some of Paul Mason’s assumptions about the current economic status quo.

She said that he “outlines a vision which I think is not entirely improbable, but could also be defined as utopian. In this unequal and divided world, we need more utopians.”

Ann noted the significance of holding the event at St Paul’s Cathedral, right “in the belly of the global financial beast, a sector…that now wields despotic power over the global economy, governments and apparently democratic institutions.” She also gave a reminder that one of the primary roles of the Church in today’s society emerges from the notion that:

“We are living through an age of rentier capitalism which is now very pervasive.  All of us are beginning to think about how we can make money from an existing asset… [which is] usurious and the Church existed, above all, in the early days to challenge usury.”

Phillip Blond, Director of the think-tank ResPublica, began by questioning the definitions of capitalism being used. He argued against aspects of a post-scarcity economic future:

“On this finite Earth, some goods are scarce. Status is one good that is scarce and we will pursue relentlessly, pathologically, whatever will give us status. Be it the right house, be it the right level of education, be it objects of art.”

It was here that fundamental issue of values and morality were brought more directly into view, with Phillip’s assertion that:

“If we’re really going to succeed, we have to recover what built this cathedral…the religious and moral vision that created a world in which equality wasn’t viewed as something uniform but was viewed as an equal opportunity for people to flourish and flourish differently. That moral agenda is the only radical political agenda.”

The rest of the event was spent in discussion between panellists as they answered about a dozen questions from the audience.  

Questions ranged from the compatibility of capitalism with democracy, the role of automation and its impact on work, open source models of production, Christian Democrat traditions, how to account for those who are excluded, through to why Paul Mason’s book wasn’t released free of charge and more.

The level of audience participation and online activity around the event was amongst the highest ever seen at the Cathedral. It quickly led to the hashtag used for the evening (#Postcapitalism) to become a trending topic: ranked at #3 overall in the UK.

Institute Director Barbara Ridpath said:

“St Paul’s Institute serves to convene conversations that are important to public well being. From the response to this event it’s clear that many are keen to collectively discuss where our economy might go next and what different paths are available to us in a wider context of social justice, equality and community. 

"The speakers helped us consider what it means for humanity to live in relationship with one another and the world that we inhabit. Such a conversation is always worth having, and it was terrific that St Paul’s was the place to have it.’


Institute Manager, Robert Gordon, recently reviewed the book, saying:

"It is clear that a growing movement is striving for collective wellbeing and common good on a global scale, and this book adds an important note to the increasingly loud chorus of voices calling us to pay attention to this emerging future."

See and hear the full video of PostCapitalism: Envisaging A Shared Future

Read a Storify showcasing some of the social media activity around PostCapitalism: Envisaging A Shared Future #postcapitalism

Visit St Paul’s Institute for more articles and coverage, as well as information on future events, dialogues and workshops.