Theory in Crisis Seminar – Aaron Benanav, ‘Post-scarcity economics: the foundations of life after capitalism’

Theory in Crisis February

Theory in Crisis Seminar – Aaron Benanav, ‘Post-scarcity economics: the foundations of life after capitalism’

Theory in Crisis February
University of London Institute in Paris
Online Event
Event dates
, 4:00PM - 6:00PM (CET)

What is the role of critical theory today and who is it for? What kind of maps can theory provide in the context of entrenched capitalist crisis? These are some of the questions posed by this Theory in Crisis seminar series.   

In this session, Aaron Benanav will give a talk titled ‘Post-scarcity economics: the foundations of life after capitalism’: 

In a world of rampant economic insecurity and rising inequality, we would like to imagine that it is possible to get to a world where we can use our vast social and technological resources to ensure that no one goes hungry any more, that no one experiences scarcity when it comes to the essential goods and services that people need to make a life. Universal Basic Income (UBI) provides one idea about how this future possibility might be realized: we could just give people money, without conditions, to ensure that they have enough to live. However, if UBI were large enough to have that effect, it would require that we radically transform the conditions of our work, that is, how we produce what we need to live. How would work have to change, if work was no longer the condition of survival for the vast majority?

In this talk, I argue that thinking through this question is the key to designing what I call a “post-scarcity economics.” Whenever people in history have overcome insecurity, they have found that they cared about more than just the extent of their access to material goods and services. A larger range of ends and aims, including satisfaction at work, ecological sustainability, social justice and reparations, and so on, present themselves as equally important, or at least potentially so.

Post-scarcity economics suggests that the realization of post-capitalist life is only possible via a break with the money-form of value, that is, a singular measure of value, whether based on units of utility, labour, or energy. A more complex form of decision making has to replace calculation in monetary units, allowing a larger variety of ends and aims to shape the terms on which we meet our needs—in a process that is at once cooperative and conflictual, but in any case remains radically open when it comes to possible human futures. 


Aaron Benanav is a postdoctoral researcher at Humboldt University of Berlin and the author of Automation and the Future of Work (Verso, 2020). In Fall 2022, he will begin a new position as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at Syracuse University, where he will also serve as a core faculty member in the Autonomous Systems Policy Institute.