The Falling Rate of Learning and the Neoliberal Endgame by David Blacker Zero Books 4.5 stars James Ash It's been a bad few decades for the reputation of Karl Marx, but according to US philosopher David Blacker, the free-market cheerleaders who applauded the death of communism spoke too soon. In this book, he argues that capitalism is now in its death throes and that Marx saw this coming all along. But Blacker says no-one should get too exultant about this, because capitalism's "murder-suicide" is likely to take civilisation down with it. The author is no Marxist, but he credits Marx with identifying capitalism's Achilles' heel: the long-term tendency for profits to decline. This forces it to mutate constantly, into forms sometimes catastrophic for society, as in its latest incarnation, neoliberalism. As Blacker argues in this brilliant, searing broadside, neoliberalism's toxic mix of austerity, offshoring, financialisation, debt and inequality fell flat on its face in 2008, but refused to stay down. It continues on, zombie-like, as "an all-out assault on anything in the system that might still have a little exchange value, a little liquidity with which to releverage. One might term this the 'searching under the couch cushions for loose change' phase of late capitalism". One of these sofa cushions is the mass educational system. Publicly funded, it is a tempting target for systematic looting under the aegis of "privatisation". Even worse for the educational system, capitalism no longer needs it. Per Blacker, mass education only exists because it served big business in the industrial era: an economy that made things needed lots of (minimally) educated workers to run the machines. But those days are gone. Turning Marx on his head, he argues that the only thing worse than being exploited by capitalism is not being exploited - to be surplus to its requirements. This is already the fate of billions in the "long-ago enclosed and dispossessed global South", and one that will be shared by most of the next generation in the rich countries. Blacker argues that in the merciless logic of neoliberalism, this surplus population doesn't need traditional education. Public "schools" will probably continue to exist, but they will resemble minimum-security prisons - that is, if post-industrial civilisation survives at all. He foresees some combination of climate change, peak energy and debt-fuelled financial collapse leading to a complete breakdown, and a subsequent "reshuffle of the deck". Whatever follows may be an improvement for the survivors, or it may not, Blacker writes - but this sort of catastrophic change is more plausible than anything envisioned by the Occupy movement, however much he applauds its spirit.