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The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism Paperback – July 7, 2015

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Editorial Reviews


“Admirable in its scope...what makes The Zero Marginal Cost Society worth reading is its audacity, its willingness to weave a vast string of developments into a heartening narrative of what our economic future may hold for the generations to come. You can call it naive, but it's much more than that. It's hopeful.” ―Fortune

“A thought-provoking read that pushes some of the most important new technologies to their logical–and sometimes scary–conclusions…The value of this book… doesn't lie in the accuracy of its specific forecasts, but rather in the extrapolations of current trends that enable Rifkin to reach them. If Rifkin's predictions have value... it is in bringing home the extent of the technologically induced upheaval that may lie ahead. How we deal with the consequences is up to us. A grand unifying theory of [Rifkin's] thinking over four decades.” ―The Financial Times

“[An] illuminating new book…Rifkin is very good on the historical origins of the giant, vertically integrated organizations that dominated the 20 Century economy. [He] makes a powerful case that from a longer-term perspective, it is these giant hierarchies that are the anomalies of economic history. The shredding of vertical value chains, the creation of vast new horizontal value chains, and the social change of people preferring access to ownership…bring massive economic and social changes to business and society, the implications of which [are] only beginning to be glimpsed. For Rifkin, the shifts are positive and huge.” ―Forbes

“Jeremy Rifkin offers an ambitious and optimistic image of how a commons-based, collaborative model of the economy could displace industrial capitalism when the economic and social practices of the Internet are extended to energy, logistics, and material fabrication. Even skeptical readers, concerned with the ubiquitous surveillance and exquisite social control that these same technologies enable, should find the vision exhilarating and its exposition thought provoking.” ―Yochai Benkler, Harvard Law School

“This breathtaking book connects some of today's most compelling technology-driven trends into a five-hundred-year spiral from commons to capitalism and back. Rifkin has produced an intellectual joyride that takes us to the threshold of a new economic order.” ―Kevin Werbach, the Wharton School

“The Zero Marginal Cost Society confirms Jeremy Rifkin as the peerless visionary of technological trends. The future arrives only to fill in the sketches that Rifkin so ably draws. I highly recommend this book as a cure for those who are perplexed about the future of technology.” ―Calestous Juma, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

“In his latest work, Jeremy Rifkin turns his gaze on the world in which almost everything has a marginal cost approaching zero, asking what the implications are for our economy and the environment. Rifkin's radical conclusions--foretelling the eclipse of our current economic system and the rise of the "collaboratists"--will make this one of the most discussed books of the year.” ―James Boyle, the Center for the Study of the Public Domain, Duke Law School

“Jeremy Rifkin takes us on a whirlwind tour of our past and future, making the undeniable case for our growing, global collaborative destiny. I dare you to read this book and not rethink your future!” ―Lisa Gansky, author of The Mesh: Why the Future of Business is Sharing

“A comprehensive exploration of the implications of anyone being able to make anything” ―Neil Gershenfeld, Director, MIT Center for Bits and Atoms

“An amazing work…This insightful, surprising, and practical book helps us understand how the emerging Internet of Things is driving extreme productivity, the rush to a near zero marginal cost society, and the rise of a new economic paradigm. Rifkin solves the puzzle of what companies, nonprofit organizations, and governments need to do to reposition themselves on the new Collaborative Commons. The book is a must read for every citizen and decision maker.” ―Jerry Wind, the Wharton School

“Free-market traditionalists have trouble recognizing that the future of governance and economics lies with the Commons--a world of collaboration, sharing, ecological concern and human connection. Jeremy Rifkin deftly describes the powerful forces that are driving this new paradigm and transforming our personal lives and the economy. A highly readable account of the next big turn of the wheel.” ―David Bollier, author of Think Like a Commoner: A Short Introduction to the Life of the Commons

“Brilliantly tackled…Rifkin describes how the dramatic lowering of transaction, communication, and coordination costs allow the global scaling of small group dynamics, fundamentally changing the choices that humanity can make for its social organization. Read it, rejoice, and take action to build the new world in which the market and the state are not destroying the commons, but aligned with it.” ―Michel Bauwens, Founder, P2P Foundation

“Jeremy Rifkin has always been ahead of the curve. In The Zero Marginal Cost Society, Rifkin takes us on a journey to the future, beyond consumerism to "prosumers" who produce what they consume and share what they have on a Collaborative Commons, a contemporary expression of Gandhi's "Swadeshi." His down to earth vision of democratizing innovation and creativity on a global scale, for the wellbeing of all, is inspiring and, equally important, doable.” ―Vandana Shiva, Environmental Activist and recipient of the Right Livelihood Award

About the Author

JEREMY RIFKIN, one of the most popular social thinkers of our time, is the bestselling author of 19 books including The Third Industrial Revolution, The Empathic Civilization, The European Dream, and The End of Work. Rifkin is an advisor to the European Union and heads of state around the world. He is a senior lecturer at the Wharton School's Executive Education Program at the University of Pennsylvania and the president of the Foundation on Economic Trends in Washington, DC.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; Reprint edition (July 7, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1137280115
  • ISBN-13: 978-1137280114
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.3 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (135 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #72,060 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Marrena Lindberg on April 5, 2014
Format: Hardcover
I tore through this book. Rifkin makes a convincing case that capitalism will inevitably decline in the next forty years due to a number of forces driving down marginal costs: the Internet, nearly free and abundant distributed solar and wind energy, improved AI and robotics, 3D printing in plastic and metal, and his pet hobby horse--improved shipping and logistics with smart sensors embedded in packaging, sort of an uber-GPS to track goods. His writing is somewhat repetitive and heavy on the talking points, but he really shines with his historical argument showing how the last two Industrial Revolutions changed society and how something similar is happening now.

Whether you believe what he says or not, clearly the powers that be believe it. It explains so many things happening in the economy right now--the ferocity of multinational corporations fighting against change is explained--they are not fighting merely from avarice, but for their very survival. It also explains why banks and hedge funds are focusing less on investing in stocks, and more on commodities and land, especially farmland.

What I found shocking about the book was his optimistic attitude about the effects on the general population. If all private sector jobs disappear and marginal costs approach zero for goods and services, yes, it will make it nearly free to buy things and heat our homes, but there are some things that will remain scarce, important things--land and food. If anything, food will become more scarce due to global warming. Sure we can share cars and lawnmowers, and sell things we make on Etsy, but we fundamentally need a place to stay and food to eat, and those things cost money. With no jobs left, are we all to become subsistence farmers, those of us lucky enough to have access to land? We will have fancy, nearly free toys and abundant renewable energy but we all need to eat every day. Are we looking at post-modern feudalism?
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Format: Hardcover
This is a book so brilliant that six back-cover blurbs simply are not enough -- kudos to the thoughtful publisher for putting six more in our faces first thing when we open it. Inside, the book makes daring predictions about the world of the future. "The capitalist era is passing ... not quickly, but inevitably." (@2) "[T]he Internet of Things" will connect "everyone and everything in a global network driven by extreme productivity [that will move] us ever faster toward an era of nearly free goods and services and, with it, the shrinking of capitalism in the next half century and the rise of a Collaborative Commons as the dominant model for organizing economic life." (@16) Fortunately for the reputations of those blurbistas and perhaps of the author (JR) himself, by the end of half a century most of this book's readers either will be dead, or will have accumulated five decades of more important memories to help them forget they ever read this work.

To start with a calibration: by US standards I'd probably qualify as "progressive" (or worse, since I read a lot of stuff in French). Some of JR's pet topics, such as collaboration, cooperatives and various types of commons, are fine with me, in the right doses and the right contexts. And the book's frequent flourishes of Bolshevik rhetoric tend rather to fill me with nostalgia for the silly 1970s than with horror (generally, anyway; but see Section 3 below). So my problems with this book aren't because I regard any criticism of capitalism as, say, an existential threat to Western civilization and the survival of our species. Rather, it's because the book has too hefty a dose of nonsense, at big scales and small.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Zero Marginal Cost Society is a worthwhile read about the distributed collaborative economy that we have partially been moving towards during the second age of the internet revolution. There are some incredibly important ideas to take away from the book like the way manufacturing can change with 3-D printing, how asset utilization will improve with things like airBnB and how education will be socialized with things like MOOC. The lessons from the book in certain categories I think are excellent and deep but the book is also too sensationalized with misconceptions on the cost on engineering and misapplied economic ideas. To try to take the book at face value would be a mistake in my opinion. The book would have been a lot more powerful had it been more self reflective about the need for grandiose language.

The book is split into 5 sections. In the first section the author gives his views on capitalism in history and argues that it is not the natural state but rather an evolved state that came about due to the end of serfdom and the division of labor that came from specialization. As society moved from subsistence scarcity to tradeable abundance we lost the community and common ownership and moved to the guilded age with water and wind power. As the railroad and energy revolution came about from coal and oil we developed a logistical network to communicate and coordinate better and allow for greater tradeability that entrenched the capitalist spirit which was required for the capital expenditure needed for the architecture of logistics and communication.
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