Joey Eschrich, writing in Slate, suggests that the futures industry has a “dearth of imagination”. He contends that futurists pay too little attention to “post-capitalist” futures.
“As we fret over the future, we worry about rising sea levels and robotic job-snatchers, but the economic and political supremacy of the capitalist market doesn’t seem to be up for discussion.”
He makes some valid points.
Futures projects often consider the implications of changing geopolitical environments, but changing economic systems aren’t often explicitly considered in the same detail. Some look not at replacing capitalism, but “re-imagining” it.
Rising inequality and economic insecurity are widely recognized in futures discussions, although there is a tendency to jump to a form of universal basic income as a solution, whilst retaining the current economic system.
However, he’s wrong that there is no consideration of different future political economies. Post-capitalist futures are being examined. Such as in Peter Frase’s book, and by others. And the “end of capitalism” is already being observed by some. Although reports of the death of capitalism are usually greatly exaggerated.
A focus just on the new power of “networks”, sharing economies, and co-operatives (which frequently come up in futures discussions) isn’t sufficient to signal an end of capitalism. As Erik Wright describes it, a shift from capitalism to other forms of economic structure depends on the degree to which economic, state and social power controls it.
Worker cooperatives and local social economy projects, state-run banks and enterprises, social democratic regulation of corporations, solidarity finance, and participatory budgeting all potentially undermine the dominance of capitalism and increase the weight of social power within the economic hybrid.
Eschrich is also right in the sense that a lot of current futures activities is increasingly becoming “commodified”. It often focuses too much on technological trends, and how organisations can “win” in the changing environment, while not looking as closely at social and economic systems.
Futurism isn’t always about solutionism. It is often more useful when it helps generate new questions and challenges assumptions. More needs to be done to examine unpalatable thoughts, including scrutinising economic systems and societal values.
Featured image: by Ross Findon, on from Unsplash