Ever since Future Shock made waves in 1970 with its vision of a future moving faster than our ability to cope with it, the husband and wife team of Alvin and Heidi Toffler have become the go-to futurists for people trying to understand the world from a macro perspective. Their new tome, Revolutionary Wealth, is another birds-eye view of the world as it is and an educated guess as to where it's going.
The Tofflers take the position that knowledge is the key to creating a richer (literally and figuratively) world. The good news is that knowledge is not finite and can be shared and expanded upon to create greater wealth for everyone. The bad news is that knowledge becomes obsolete so quickly and is so quickly replaced by new knowledge that our slow-moving institutions can’t keep up. In addition, those who lack access to knowledge may be left behind.
This can lead to what the Tofflers call “desynchronization,” which can give rise to everything from the ethics violations of many major corporations (thanks to their greater knowledge of the market than the slow-moving government regulators who are supposed to be watching them), to schools that no longer work, to terrorism. In addition, those who don’t feel comfortable with the pace of change, or feel that changing times threaten their livelihood, will drag their feet and attempt to hold change back. (An interesting example that the Tofflers offer is the attack on scientific advances by religious, environmental, and other groups who feel their turf is threatened.)
The Tofflers spend a good deal of space in the book discussing “prosumers”, or consumers who also produce. This generally refers to all the things people do that keeps the world running even though they don’t get paid, from taking care of a sick relative to raising kids. More interesting to the wealth discussion, perhaps, is that thanks to the Internet and other technologies, amateur prosumer scientists, and techies have a greater ability to create valuable products and knowledge than ever before. (An example is the Linux operating system - free, open-source webserver software that has been constantly improved by thousands of volunteer programmers and is now used by major corporations and governments.)