Response by Tom Rigby to “The Future of Work”

Ramos’ critique of neoliberalism centres on the nature of capitalism as a system in which value is created for the few at the expense of the many. Ramos uses the metaphor of musical chairs to demonstrate the effects of neoliberalism on employment, with each step of innovation and disruption decreasing rather than increasing employment opportunities. But why must this be a zero sum game, he asks?

Ramos criticises widely held end-of-history fatalism about an automated, globalised, capitalist future and presents an argument for a cosmo-localist alternative based largely on reimagining or reclaiming already nascent forms of technologically-driven economic disruption towards a “commons economy”. Ramos envisages localised circular economies based around real sharing economies, and an alternative globalisation including elements such as open money systems. “A commons economy,” states Ramos, “is the reverse of musical chairs—it adds new chairs to the game. When the music stops, a chair is added, another person can join the game.”

With his emphasis on technological innovation and economic disruption through “pro-commons enterprise” as the routes to social change, Ramos’ alternative view of globalisation mimics rather than challenges the neoliberal consensus. Ramos’ futurist vision echoes a tech-centred worldview shared amongst many (small-l) liberals in the USA, which journalist Sam Kriss has described as a “nerdish fascination for system: an inattention to what politics actually is or does, but a fetishization of efficiency, the latent notion that all these 18th-century structures really should just be replaced with something you can download on your phone”.

Ramos says that, “ultimately, pro-commons policies will need to become part of the fabric of the state”, yet surely he has things the wrong way around. We already know that environmental regulations and future funds have real, pro-commons effects on markets and employment, and that progressive fiscal policies can promote both equity and growth. Looking forward, the introduction of a universal basic income would lay the groundwork for a “real” sharing economy by making labour a seller’s market.

In many ways the ascendancy of neoliberalism can be seen as the logical extension of liberal ideology, however this is no reason for the Left to dispense with liberalism entirely, as some have pronounced vocally since the election of Donald Trump. The civil liberties which bestow upon the liberal subject her propensity for innovation are some of the tenets of liberalism that are most worth preserving, but this needs to be balanced by green democratic socialist values of equality, redistribution and sustainability. It is clear that entrepreneurs and innovators will continue to play a leading role in shaping society. However, at this point the state is the only viable vehicle for the reforms and regulations needed to defend the interests of the many against the oligarchs. Reclaiming the state is a more fundamentally democratic project than supporting entrepreneurs, and our strategy for reclaiming the state is a more pressing priority for the Left than crowdsourcing the next killer democracy app.