- 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 1.2 x 9.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 169 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #73,399 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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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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“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.
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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. There is a nostalgia of the values of the community when no one owned anything, though I am quite sure if you were to ask a Russian serf if they preferred having the land belonging to him or him belonging to the land, he would prefer the former. This economic history of the world is interesting but far from decisive and is filled with implied values masked as substantive fact.
The author then goes into some economic ideas and the declining marginal cost of manufacturing. The author starts out by discussing that economics textbooks argue that in perfect competition (not the real world) the price of a good is equal to its marginal cost. Therefore as marginal costs come down due to 3D printing, Moore's law of PV cells (made up by the author and not an empirical fact) the cost of manufacturing and energy will go to 0 and will end the capitalist paradigm we are so used to. The author has misconceptions about solar panel cost deflation, solar wafers do not have a marginal cost of 0 and solar efficiency is stuck in the mid teens at the best of times with the incremental efficiency gains declining in time- these are fundamental engineering problems. I do hope that solar and wind costs decline to make them the source of our energy but the sound bites used by the author are self serving not even handed. The author discusses 3-D printings ability to change the nature of manufacturing (true) but then hyperbolizes the method into ideas like 3-D printing 3 - D printers and heralding the ago of abundance. Examples used highlight the flaws in the reasoning by talking about how tissue can be printed (in infancy stage but true) but fails to remind the reader that its not the printing that's necessarily expensive its the medium, having the right cellular material to use the printer to align is not marginal cost 0... Things like this can add up to frustrating reading at times. The author also discusses MOOCs and how they are leveling the educational playing field and are already gaining students in every country around the world. The author discusses automation as something that economists ignore as an ingredient to rising unemployment (incorrect, this is something that people have focused on for centuries) and I would like to highlight that Japan, which has the highest density of robots in its manufacturing process and is home to the best robotics company globally has extremely low unemployment. The author then focuses on the way to build out the infrastructure required to sustain a smart society. The questions about whether the natural monopoly of telecom and smart electricity should be handled by the private sector or government are discussed.
The author then moves back to some fundamental ethics and discusses the supposed fallacy of the tragedy of the commons. Game theory is a subject of the 20th century that has evolved to deal with trying to solve coordination problems in which people acting in their own self interest end up with outcomes that are worse for themselves and society which goes against the grain of the logic embedded in wealth of nations. One of the first examples focused on besides the famous prisoners dilemma is the tragedy of the commons in which when given communal rights people will overuse the communal space for self interested reasons making the situation worse for everyone. The author discusses how this is wrong using a response by an academic lawyer called the comedy of the commons in which the outcomes assumed in the game theoretic example are wrong empirically. This section is interesting but off mark in its criticism. The tragedy of the commons is rightfully focused on as an example of how institutional arrangement can create suboptimal outcomes - it is not about the nature of man. People who assume all commons will end up like the tragedy of commons are massively over reaching. Families can enjoy gardens together but the entire population of a country might over run it. The argument that the author makes in this section is about the collaborative nature of man and how the problems of overfishing are things that can be self regulated by caring communities. Hmm, maybe in groups of 100, not in groups of 10,000. The nature of association of a community is what determines the applicapility of the game theory constructs, they serve as frameworks of analysis only and the author treating them as belief systems of the nature of man can only be directed towards individuals, not the field of study.
The second to last section is among the most important and discusses the rise of the collaborative economy. The world is going towards one in which assets can be better utilized. From a data analysis perspective this is already happening, UPS monitors its trucks and improves routes to maximize asset utilization. From a community perspective people are better able to subscribe to services that allow them to use a pool of assets that they only need sporadically to improve general asset utilization. Air bnb being an example. The over production of underutilized assets is one that a coordinated logistics network will help us to minimize and is a societal waste. This as an arena is something to watch very carefully as it will put many entrenched businesses in awkward businesses. The author also discusses getting funding from the internet through crowdsourcing.
The authors last section is the conclusion and a look at things like climate change and the sustainable environment and the things that can derail his vision. There is an incredibly important idea embedded in this book that is the nature of the economy is changing and aspects of it are getting decentralized like powering your house educating yourself and consumer to consumer sharing. There is much of the book which seems visionary but is in fact disingenuous. The marginal cost of solar panels isn't 0, the marginal cost of printing things is not 0 (though it will improve forms of manufacturing substantially). There are many times in which the author makes an argument which then conflicts with another observation. He discusses how you can print a car and how its marginal cost will go to 0 but then notes much later that auto companies with incredibly well machined manufacturing techniques already produce with extremely low margins. The author argues that we are close to abundance, I wish for that day but the directions the author is highlighting don't bring us there as the engineering costs of constructing and the depreciation of the capital stock (solar panels don't have infinite life) will ensure the cost of manufacturing is non-zero. There are important lessons in this book though they are surrounded by hyperbole and at times highly selective information that could be categorized as misinformation.
Now let's think about where the real money in the economy is, the "big-ticket" items. To me it seems this would include housing (including land), transportation (personal vehicles as well as the massive fleet of trucks needed to move materials throughout the economy, aircraft, transport ships), production equipment for heavy industry (machine tools, MRI scanners, etc.), and food. Can these categories of goods ever be produced near zero marginal cost? To me this seems unlikely (see next paragraph for more detail). And these categories of goods make up the greatest fraction of the overall economy. Housing alone is the single biggest personal expense, followed by a personal vehicle. I would estimate that, at most, products suitable for zero marginal cost production might amount to perhaps one-third of the overall economy.
Although I don't believe that houses or cars will be amenable to 3D technology, I must add a few qualifiers. Certain components WILL be suited to production by 3D printer, so there will be a contribution. For instance, auto bodies have already been done this way. But I ask: what about the engines and drive trains? Wheels, tires, suspension, etc. As for houses, concrete houses date back to T. Edison's day. They can be done by 3D printer. But who wants to live in a concrete house? Maybe if the concrete were plastered over or coated with some other material. Edison also suggested concrete furniture, appliance cabinets, etc. Who knows, perhaps if somebody invents some sort of new concrete more suitable for human living spaces.
Rifkin is awfully short on details when discussing the "new" technologies. He states that 3D printers can pour not only plastic and glass, but metals as well. That's all he says; he does not mention what kinds of metals or what applications for which they are suited. Well, there are all kinds of metals and they have all kinds of different properties suiting them for particular applications. Another place he glosses over the details is his discussion of some new car called an "Urbee". From his discussion of it, it seems to be some kind of puddle-hopper with a hybrid drive train. Something between a motor scooter with a shell, or a motorized rickshaw. Then he goes on to compare it to a Toyota Prius as a practical vehicle that everyone will want!
Rifkin also makes a big deal out of green energy (solar, wind) as a total replacement for fossil fuels. No way! He has no conception of the sheer massive size of the current energy infrastructure. Green energy cannot scale to the proportions necessary to power modern industrial economies. There simply is no substitute for petroleum. And his insistence that we are transitioning away from industrial civilization is plainly wrong. Consumers will always need houses and cars and tools -- industrial goods. The infrastructure necessary to support all this itself requires industry. The idea of "free energy" is always going to remain a pipe dream (though it can make a significant contribution).
So overall, I would conclude that Rifkin's thesis is not incorrect, but at the same time it's not going to have the world-transforming effect that he prophesizes. This is consistent with several other of his books that I have examined, such as The Age of Access: The New Culture of Hypercapitalism, Where all of Life is a Paid-For Experience. In many places the book is alot of hype.