Four Futures: using science fiction to challenge late stage capitalism and Thatcher's "no alternative"

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Margaret Thatcher’s 1979 declaration that “there is no alternative” to neoliberal capitalism is more than a rallying cry: it’s a straitjacket on our imaginations, constraining our ability to imagine what kinds of other worlds we might live in. But in science fiction, alternatives to market economies abound (and a surprising number of them are awarded prestigious awards by the Libertarian Futurist Society!), and it is through these tales that sociologist Peter Frase asks us to think through four different ways things could go, in a slim, sprightly book called Four Futures – a book that assures us that there is no more business as usual, and an alternative must be found.


Isn’t Thatchers point that all the alternative are fantasies?
So in an essence your agreeing with her!

Do you mean they’re currently not available? Or they will be forever out of reach?


It was more a rallying cry than a declaration. By stating there was no alternative Thatcher hoped to discredit any alternative as impossible dreams. In Latin America they went further. There they simply tortured and killed anyone supporting an alternative.


I love the subtle framing of the 4 options there. The reverse implication of the table saying “If you like equality and abundance, then communism is the only option”. As if those attributes can only be achieved in this way.

Maybe they’re right, maybe they’re wrong. Maybe that is the thesis of the book. But the framing makes a contested assumption and hides it as an implied truth in that list.


Ahh, Cory. The boring member of the boing boing team. He’s like your mad uncle who bangs on and on about Thatcher to an audience who weren’t born when she resigned.
if communism is the answer it was stupid bloody question.


When you consider that as automation increases, the value of labor approaches zero asymptotically, it’s hard to see under what scenario other than communism of some sort equality and abundance could occur. Of course, in reality these are extremes: communism probably isn’t where you want to land, because it favors homogeneity, but to the extent that what you want isn’t communism, communism serves as a good straw man to criticize: if we don’t want communism, what do we take away to get what we do want? What do we add?



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It’s regrettable that the author gives freighted one-word labels to these putative four options. Isn’t the whole point of speculative fiction to show how other narratives can be built from the raw materials of reality? It’s precisely people like Thatcher and Stalin whose malevolent goal is to tell us that there’s a single correct narrative.

We’ve seen enormous benefit from free enterprise, and from socialist programs like the NHS and the New Deal. It seems like the smart thing is to look for stories that make sense of all the things that worked, not to say “I’m living in the Capitalist story, where socialism is always wrong even when it makes everything better for everyone, and deregulation is always good even when it’s corrosively poisonous”.


Cats are already way ahead of us:

Fully automated communism and anarchy are kind of hard to distinguish. What with Communism being Stateless as part of the original definition.


All approaches to communism so far have required massive and brutal dictatorships to even incompletely enforce this set of economic rules on human society. This is not an accident. Human beings are hard wired for collaboration and hierarchy both.

Capitalism also sucks unless it’s heavily regulated by an independent system. The Dutch East India Company was not some libertarian paradise either. As a side note, “Anarcho-Capitalism” is a joke.

If Denmark and similar nations’ approach to social democracy can work in 3rd world nations and is eventually allowed to by 1st world nations, that will probably be the best option.

The “Star Trek” imagined universe does not appear to be communist or capitalist. It appears to be post-money. The people on earth appear to have a solid safefy net and being given resources in accordance with a true meritocracy and ROI that our current capitalism lacks.

They also appear to have mental health cured, without a mass lobotomizing of humanity.


That sounds friendly! Let’s choose that option!


With the exception of whatever it is in the water at Star Fleet Headquarters that makes all of those crazy Admirals… :wink:


That’s socialism. But the problem with socialism is that as the value of labor plummets, it either turns into communism or exterminism.

While I agree that the one-word labels come across as loaded, it should be kept it mind that the author is presenting examples of points on axes and not a closed set of only four values.


This guy wasn’t particularly mentally well, either.


Marx assumed that first you’d have capitalism to produce wealth, and only afterwards would you get communism to distribute it. The Soviet Union and similar socialist societies tried to shortcut that by implementing socialism in a poor, agrarian society and that didn’t work very well. I think it is clear that the author here is closer to Marx version, imagining a post-scarcity society where economics is less important.


And the therapy he had didn’t do much good, either. But then, I’m not sure the human brain is designed to cope with becoming a starship and then becoming a spider. But then, his biography says that he was having problems even before all that.