Just before writing this review, a news show reported the rising costs of food, especially beef and pork prices. Plus, the price of gasoline is close to $4 a gallon. Electric and natural gas prices are up due to higher demand over an unusually long and cold winter.
All of this seems to demonstrate there is no end in site to rising costs. Yet, a new book by Jeremy Rifkin, The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism, suggests that within the next few decades, consumers are going to start living in an era where many goods and services are free.
Rifkin writes, “But what if I were to say to you that 25 years from now, the bulk of the energy you use to heat your home and run your appliances, power your business, drive your vehicle, and operate every part of the global economy will likewise be free?”
Rifkin surmises that events starting with free downloads of music back in 1999 and continuing with the decline of newspapers and book publishing will expand into almost every aspect of our lives and destroy capitalism as we know it today. Emerging technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and 3-D printers, free online education and open-source software are going to change the world and how commerce is conducted.
Prosumers and Zero Marginal Costs
Rifkin defines prosumers as “consumers who have become their own producers—generating their own green electricity at near zero marginal cost around the world.”
This is going to happen in part due to the IoT. “The Internet of Things,” writes Rifkin, “will connect every thing with everyone in an integrated global network. People, machines, natural resources, production lines, logistics networks, consumption habits, recycling flows, and virtually every other aspect of economic and social life will be linked via sensors and software to the IoT platform…”
Shift from Capitalism to Collaborative Commons
The first premise this author offers to readers is that capitalism is in a slow death spiral and that a new economic paradigm called Collaborative Commons will emerge. He also presents his theory that today’s society will go from ownership to social capital and a shared economy.
He writes about free college education and students getting college degrees to work in a world transformed to less need for human labor. He poses the question, “What would the human race do, and more importantly, how would it define its future on Earth, if mass and professional labor were to disappear from economic life over the course of the next two generations?’
So why would anyone want a free college education?
Noteworthy Features of The Zero Marginal Cost Society
While the author does make a solid case for an increasing zero cost of a host of goods and services, the notion that energy, food, and all things being free is frightening. Nothing in life is free. If the world goes to free energy, free transportation, free everything, the cost will be the human factor and the diminished need for human labor.
Some form of capitalism has to be in effect to move the technology Rifkin writes about forward. Where will research and development be completed? Where will be the money come for medical research and advances? It just seems impossible that all of that will become free and that people will be encouraged to become doctors, engineers or technology experts if there is no incentive such as a paycheck. Continued free stuff for all just doesn’t seem to be a strong enough incentive.
People may think that killing capitalism will make the world a better place, when in the end, they really just want to be at the top of the ladder in a capitalistic society. The premise of this book is a hard one to accept for those readers that embrace capitalism. For those looking for all things free, the book defines the perfect world.
About the Author
Rifkin is described in the book as “one of the most popular social thinkers of our time.” He is a bestselling author of 20 books. He is an advisor to the European Union and to heads of state around the world. Rifkin is also a lecturer at Wharton School’s Executive Education Program.Powered by Sidelines