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I just finished reading The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism.  It was fascinating and opened my eyes.  Jeremy Rifkin, the author, convincingly demonstrates that capitalism will become a niche market within the next three decades and that most large corporations will go bankrupt--inevitably, due to market forces, rather than because of activism or government activity or populist revolution.  Here at dKos I got into a debate in the comments of a diary about the end of capitalism, and I can now say that I was wrong.  Capitalism is ending, and so are private sector jobs.  Here are some quotes:

The Collaborative Commons is already profoundly impacting economic life.  Markets are beginning to give way to networks, ownership is becoming less important than access, the pursuit of self-interest is being tempered by the pull of collaborative interest, and the traditional dream of rags to riches is being supplanted by a new dream of a sustainable quality of life.

In the coming era, both capitalism and socialism will lose their once-dominant hold over society, as a new generation increasingly identifies with Collaboratism.  The young collaboratists are borrowing the principle virtues of both the capitalists and socialists, while eliminating the centralizing nature of both the free market and the bureaucratic state.

Solar cells are capturing more solar energy that strikes them while reducing the cost of harvesting the energy.  Solar efficiencies for triple junction solar cells in the laboratory have reached 41 percent.  Thin film has hit 20 percent efficiency in the laboratory.

If this trend continues at the current pace--and most studies actually show an acceleration in exponentiality--solar energy will be as cheap as the current average retail price of electricity today by 2020 and half the price of coal electricity today by 2030.

What's becoming apparent is that a growing number of giant capitalist enterprises across a range of commercial sectors that are already facing plummeting profit margins will not be able to survive for very long against the rising tide of near zero marginal costs in the production and delivery of goods and services.  Although the thousand or so highly integrated, vertically scaled megacorporations that currently account for much of the world's commerce are imposing and seemingly invincible, they are, in fact, highly vulnerable to a collaborative economy that is quickly eating away at their already precariously low profit margins.
Basically he's saying that almost all megacorporations are going to go the way of the music, publishing and newspaper industries--the "Napster effect" writ large.

This book inadvertently explains a lot about the current economic state.  It makes sense now that multinational corporations are acting so rapaciously--they are not fighting for more profit, they are fighting for their actual continued existence.  Whether you believe what Rifkin says or not, clearly the powers that be believe it.  His predictions also explain banks' and hedge funds' recent interest in land, including farmland, and commodities.  In quickly arriving age of material and energy abundance, the only places of scarcity will be raw materials, land, and the food grown on that land.

His book is similar to Kurzweil's predictions about the future and exponential growth.  Change is coming faster than most of us expect, especially in the areas of robotics, AI, renewable energy and 3D printing.  He spends most of his time talking about the Commons, which is useful and good--I have a deeper understanding of the larger forces at work and the history behind them.  However, his vision of a happy and collaborative and distributed future, where most material goods are nearly free, ignores the dark side of such a future.

The book really is an interesting read; I tore through it quickly.  He illustrates his point quite well, although a little repetitively--heavy on the talking points.  The most fascinating part for me was a history of the last two Industrial Revolutions, to show how quickly they changed society and our notion of work and the market, and how we as people relate to each other.  He showed how inevitable it is that the current economic paradigm will fall to the third Industrial Revolution, based on the Internet, distributed, nearly free renewable electricity from solar and wind, 3D printing, AI and robotics, and what he calls the Internet of Things--where material goods will all have GPS-like sensor tags to allow for extremely efficient shipping and logistics.

His focus seems to be on the corporate world, and how to best adapt to the coming economic changes.  This makes sense as he seems to run a corporate consulting company, particularly involved with helping corporations adopt the Internet of Things technology into their business models and practice.

The curious lack that I found in his book was the effect of these massive economic changes on the individual and households.  Sure it will be great for all of us and the planet (what he calls the "biosphere") to have basically free material goods and renewable energy.  But he also predicts that there will be no private sector jobs.  Some of us will become what he calls "prosumers"--creating goods with 3D printing, both plastic and metal, and traditional crafts like Etsy, and selling our rooftop solar electricity to our neighbors, but in a zero marginal cost society we won't be able to make much money doing those things.  In a society of abundance, some things will remain scarce--food (especially with global warming) and land.  Are we all going to become subsistence farmers and return to a post-modern feudalism?

He does do a good job tying in together the environmental movement, hackers, Occupy Wall Street, net neutrality, open source software, MOOC, Kickstarter, and Millenials in general.  His main point is that we are moving towards a distributed, democratic, entrepreneurial, communal, socially aware, equality-focused society filled with abundance and cooperation.  The whole world will turn into Occupy Wall Street.

Has anyone else here at dKos read this book?  I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts.  From what he says in the book about his previous books, it sounds like this book is Rifkin's magnum opus, tying together all his previous works into one resonant message.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Thanks for this diary (8+ / 0-)

    I read something recently about this book.  I haven't read it yet.  But my next stop on my morning tour of the internet is to Amazon to order one.  Do you suppose corner book stores with well read owners and staff might possibly come back?  :-)

    Dirigiste vs Free Mkt -6.25/ Libertarian vs Authoritarian -4.72

    by bob in ny on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 06:32:26 AM PDT

  •  When? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cordgrass

    Did he give an estimate as to when all this will take place?  If it will happen in the next 30 years, I guess I’ll take a wait-and-see approach.  If it will happen much further in the future than that, things become too unknowable for anyone to make successful predictions.

  •  Thanks (5+ / 0-)

    I hadn't heard of this book yet, but I will be looking for it to read.  

    Thank you for the run down on it, I always appreciate a new idea or source to check out.  

    Thanks again.

    Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can't help them, at least don't hurt them. Dalai Lama

    by prettymeadow on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 07:00:59 AM PDT

  •  This is on My Must Read List (10+ / 0-)

    Rifkin is totally credible, usually knows what he's talking about.

    Let's get real: an economy which 70% of is consumer spending cannot survive the loss of 25% of the consumers, or whatever the number is.

    Millions of people whether due to being poor from the start, or who were made poor by the 2007 financial meltdown-- simply don't have much, if any disposable income.

    THIS, not "uncertainty regarding Obamacare" is one of the main reasons Billions of dollars held by the One Percent is not being invested in the U.S. it's Economics 101; there's no point offering new goods and services when consumers have no money.

    The main thing keeping this farce afloat is the marginal economic aid programs for the poor like SNAP, home heating oil subsidies, the local food banks (which are stretched thin, not enough food to cover demand), school lunch programs and so forth.

    if these programs were not in place, we'd literally have 1,000's of hungry people in the streets.

    "We are beyond law, which is not unusual for an empire; unfortunately, we are also beyond common sense." Gore Vidal

    by Superpole on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 07:01:07 AM PDT

  •  This seems a bit rosy: (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cordgrass
    He does do a good job tying in together the environmental movement, hackers, Occupy Wall Street, net neutrality, open source software, MOOC, Kickstarter, and Millenials in general.  His main point is that we are moving towards a distributed, democratic, entrepreneurial, communal, socially aware, equality-focused society filled with abundance and cooperation.  The whole world will turn into Occupy Wall Street.
    On the other hand, the predictions of "labor automation" and "peak oil" and whatever grinding everything to halt for future generations seem a bit dark.

    In reality, the future will probably lie somewhere between the two extremes.

    It's here they got the range/ and the machinery for change/ and it's here they got the spiritual thirst. --Leonard Cohen

    by karmsy on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 07:13:34 AM PDT

    •  No, he's dark too (5+ / 0-)

      he basically is predicting the end of most paid jobs.  We will all become independent agents on the social Commons, hawking our goods like orange sellers in the town Farmers' Market.

      •  It's thrilling and frightening to think about (7+ / 0-)

        I mean people, Americans in particular, identify ourselves to a large degree by what we own, our stuff.
        What is abundantly clear though is that we cannot go on as we have been. The planet simply can't sustain this level of resource exploitation and depletion.
        Something's got to give.

        Listening to Black Sabbath.

        by DuzT on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 07:35:54 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Sounds pretty...challenging. (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        LanceBoyle, judyms9, karmsy, cordgrass

        I live in a rural community where there are a lot of young people trying to do just what you're describing.

        Organic farms, value added products, free-range meat producers, farmer market professionals you might say.

        And, I think most people would be surprised how hard it is to survive doing that, and how many of these young entrepreneurs quit and start looking for jobs with regular pay checks.

        That being said, some are doing quite well, though, even they admit it's hard to imagine keeping up that level of hard labor into old age.

        I can imagine a world closer to that of the one described in Soylent Green where the earth has become so hot, food production fails, people stream into cities, the 1% wall themselves off from the hordes of the desperate while still living in luxury from the ill-gotten gains of the few, remaining conglomerate corporations.

        Hell, we're already seeing that trend develop as rural  populations continue to decline while city populations, at least those with decent enough economies, continue to increase.

        Nothing is a given in the climate change future.

        Year 2100 we'll be reduced to eating PEOPLLLLLLE!


        "We must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both." - Louis Brandies

        by Pescadero Bill on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 08:39:31 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Hawking our goods (4+ / 0-)

        We've seen that already: the highly educated white collar professionals reduced to selling Snickers bars on street corners and selling off their libraries at flea markets. We saw it in East Germany and Russia after the collapse of state socialism. It was a hellish existence.

        With the end of paid employment in the US, how many people are going to be able to make a real living as cupcake caterers, poodle groomers, zucchini gardeners, and birthday party clowns?

      •  What some are calling "The Gig Economy". (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        cordgrass, flowerfarmer
      •  in other words the collapse of mass (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        cordgrass

        economy, supply chains, food distribution, etc at the same time nation states are under attack from episodes of scarcity and terrorism. I would expect a return to feudalism before syndicalist anarchism.
        Rifkin is a broad stroke thinker but not a deep one. Still interesting to chew on. Thanks.

        Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree. -Martin Luther

        by the fan man on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 03:10:37 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  One Thing We Know for Sure, We Do Not Know (5+ / 0-)

    the lifespan of today's children --those who will keep healthcare and access to evolving medical and genetic research. 90 for an average would seem to be downright pessimistic, as close as we are to that now; maybe 100 would be more realistic. But we can't rule out 150 this early in their lives, if any of several tantalizing ideas about extending core longevity bear fruit.

    Even Gen X'ers, as late as they are to the life extending game, we could plausibly have Roberts heading the Court for 40 more years.

    When you're talking about economies 30 years into the future we're talking about a future society whose actual organisms are beyond our ability to safely describe, in some key ways.

    This is going to be a bumpy time for predictions.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 07:15:02 AM PDT

  •  Oh, I'm tipping and recommending (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cordgrass, katiec

    this diary, as I didn't say in my earlier comment, because it's a thoughtful review on an important book. Thanks.

    It's here they got the range/ and the machinery for change/ and it's here they got the spiritual thirst. --Leonard Cohen

    by karmsy on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 07:19:48 AM PDT

  •  The ideas frankly seem naive and silly (8+ / 0-)

    and disregard human nature. The new generation is no less interested in having nice things than the generation before and is no more collaborative than the one before. I'd argue that the current generation is far more self-absorbed and social media actually masks growing emotional isolation. The collaboration is now just less intimate, more exposed, and detached.

    Generations ago people largely bartered and entire communities pitched in to raise barns, schools and churches. Now try getting more than a friend or two to help you move.

     So long as there are humans, there will always be a hierarchy with most on the bottom and a few at the top.

    I'm a technologist and have been accurate in the (admittedly narrow) predictions related to my industry when most of the thought leaders were not. I've been right because my predictions take into account sociology. This writer may be a good business consultant, but he's a poor sociologist.

    I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires. - Susan B. Anthony

    by pajoly on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 08:32:29 AM PDT

    •  This. (0+ / 0-)

      http://jasonluthor.jelabeaux.com/

      by DAISHI on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 08:37:29 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  While it's becoming clear that (6+ / 0-)

      capitalist economy no longer works, Rifkin ignores the possibility that capitalist power relations might persist for a long time. The emergence of the Commons is a long way off: US society is currently very atomized, and power is being used to block or shrink the Commons.

    •  I agree, pajoly, though wish I didn't have to.... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      native, cordgrass

      Because this is no small thing:

          "His (Rifkin's) predictions also explain banks' and hedge funds' recent interest in land, including farmland, and commodities.  In quickly arriving age of material and energy abundance, the only places of scarcity will be raw materials, land, and the food grown on that land."

          Er....that's pretty much the whole ballgame.  In order to use that personal 3D printer sitting on the kitchen countertop in 2035, the individual prole is going to need food so as to have the energy to press those super-magic buttons, and is going to need raw materials to feed into the printer to start with.  

      "The Republicans' real target is the idea that dominated the last century--the idea that human reason can design, and create, a better world." David Kaiser, 2012

      by bibble on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 10:34:52 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I sort of agree. But then I remember that it used (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cordgrass

      to be common for cultures to practice human sacrifice.

      Somehow the world moved on from that.

    •  It's not based on human nature (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ichibon

      The book is based on the ruthless ideas of the free market itself.  His point is that the free market will eventually eat up all corporations, as marginal costs drop near zero.  When corporations can't make a profit on their products, capitalism will die.

      •  The lie in the idea is already in evidence (0+ / 0-)

        We've witnessed the transition to an economy based on financial game playing and services as margins for real goods have shrunk.

        No, I think his entire premise is ridiculous and blind.

        I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires. - Susan B. Anthony

        by pajoly on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 11:11:30 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Depends on your definition of "capitalism" (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          ichibon

          Rifkin uses an economist's definition--investing capital in the means of production and reaping the profits.  That's going to disappear because profits on all goods and services are going to disappear.  So he is technically correct.  Rich people controlling the land and raw materials and playing casino games with each other, that's a lot more like feudalism, which is what I said in my diary.

          He does spend some time examining alternate local currencies, but never confronts head on the high probability that billionaires will turn into the new feudal lords by owning all the land and raw materials and charging rent.

          •  Yes, that's true re the definition of "Capitalism" (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            cordgrass

            I'd argue we have not had that here in a long time.

            I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires. - Susan B. Anthony

            by pajoly on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 11:59:24 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  The of Capitalism Will Be This (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Pescadero Bill, arendt, chmood

    A permanent Oligarchy that cannot be fought against because they control all automated means of production and distribution. The average individual's life will be dictated from birth to death with zero chance of upward mobility.

    http://jasonluthor.jelabeaux.com/

    by DAISHI on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 08:34:13 AM PDT

  •  Interesting subject (10+ / 0-)

    I was discussing this very subject with a very right-wing friend only the other day. I asked him to imagine a world where robots could do anything, even tasks that we currently think could only be done by humans. They can produce everything we could ever want or need, and there would be no need for anyone to work at all. My question was, would that not necessitate dumping the "protestant work ethic" and simply distribute "stuff" to everyone as needed.

    We kicked it around for a while, but in the end he couldn't accept the idea of anyone getting anything they hadn't "earned" in some way. I then suggested that the alternative was a society where all the robots were controlled by a few "owners" and everyone else had nothing. He accepted that. I asked what would happen to the 99%, would they just die off. To his credit, he said that he didn't like the idea, but it was inevitable, because Darwin.

    This made me sad, because he's actually a pretty nice guy, based on his interactions with people around him.

    I get frustrated, because it seems so obvious to me  that we have a wonderful future available to us, with very little work required and all necessities and even many luxuries available to all as a right. All we need is to dump attitudes that go back to when we were troops of monkeys living at the edge of survival.

    Or is it that simple?        

  •  You can read my ideas on this thread: (0+ / 0-)

    Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can't help them, at least don't hurt them. Dalai Lama

    by prettymeadow on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 12:37:00 PM PDT

  •  A very thought provoking diary. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cordgrass

    I hadn't heard of this book, but I'm going to see if my local bookstore has it, or can get it for me.
    Like a lot of us, I've been thinking about how the 1% type capitalism will end, not if, but how and when.
    What I worry about, for my kids and grand kids especially, is that the coming change will not be kind to most, because most of us are oblivious to the change already taking place and continue to consume like their is no tomorrow.

    Severely Socialist 47283

    by ichibon on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 12:54:14 PM PDT

  •  Love, love, love Rifkin (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cordgrass

    I've got to get my hands on this book (from my local library)!

    An "internet of things" sounds good to me, though the impending disappearance of jobs is unsettling.  This is why, NOW, that we need to start the conversation on a national living wage.  And, of course, plutocrats are not going away without a lengthy, protracted struggle, taking a lot people with them in the process.  The post-capitalist, collaboratist future will be, like everything else, something we will have to fight tooth and nail for.

    Col. Brandt: "What do you think we'll do when we lose the war?" Capt. Kiesel: "Prepare for the next one." --from "Cross of Iron"

    by ConservatismSuxx on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 05:24:38 PM PDT

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