The Zero Marginal Cost Society | Jeremy Rifkin

Summary of: The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism
By: Jeremy Rifkin


Dive into the thought-provoking book ‘The Zero Marginal Cost Society’ by Jeremy Rifkin, where he questions the impact of increasing automation on our society and the possible consequences of capitalism itself. This summary will take you through the potential collapse of capitalism due to its innate assumptions, touch upon the inherent conflict of continuous growth versus limited resources, and introduce you to the emergence of the prosumer economy powered by the internet. Understand the importance of the Communication Internet, Energy Internet, and Logistics Internet, and how they can shape a more sustainable future. Finally, explore the revolutionary changes in education that are beginning to reflect the values of a collaborative and decentralized society.

The Dire Consequences of Automation

As technology continues to grow and innovate, automation becomes inevitable, gradually replacing human workers. Although this development aims to cut costs and improve productivity, it poses serious threats to society. Companies have already employed sophisticated technologies like robotics and software, leading to an increase in unemployment. By 2050, hundreds of millions of people will have been replaced by automation, including skilled workers like radiologists. This sudden upsurge in unemployment will have dire consequences for the economy, as people who earn less consume less, leading to fewer goods being consumed.

The Flaws of Capitalism

Capitalism’s doomsday scenario is inevitable. According to the book, the system is based on two primary assumptions that can lead to its own downfall. Firstly, the system assumes that supply and demand will balance each other out. This is only possible in a free market. Secondly, the competitive market results in increased productivity. Production technology is improved, and marginal costs approach zero. However, this will eventually lead to a collapse. Increasing productivity leads to more supply, causing prices to fall and eventually result in less profit for businesses. Several printing companies have suffered the same fate. If capitalism continues on this path, it is bound to collapse.

The Conflict Between Growth and Limited Resources

All objects in the universe contain concentrated energy, which tends to dissipate. Economic activity harnesses energy from natural resources to create goods, but in this process, energy becomes unavailable for other uses. The conflict arises from capitalism’s tendency toward continuous growth and the limited supply of resources on Earth. Despite capitalism’s ability to create beautiful, ordered objects, it simultaneously creates disorder by destroying resources in the process. As productivity increases, capitalism uses more and more resources, but these resources are limited. At some point, there won’t be sufficient energy to support continuous growth. The inherent conflict between growth and limited resources will eventually require alternative methods for producing, consuming, and exchanging goods in the future.

The Emergence of the Prosumer Economy

In the twenty-first century, the internet has ushered in a new technology-powered economy that promotes shared access and control, eroding the traditional capitalist model of a few big players holding the lion’s share of society’s assets. The emergence of this prosumer economy has allowed virtually everyone to become a producer or provider of goods and services, and prosumers trade their products in peer-to-peer business or share them for free. The focus is on access to goods, not ownership, and traditional consumption is viewed as environmentally damaging and financially wasteful. The Communication internet serves as the base for this new economy and is interconnected with other internets, highlighting the fundamental shift towards a more equitable and sustainable economy.

The Emergence of the Energy Internet

As people generate more green energy, economic power shifts to prosumers, and the Energy Internet emerges, closely connected to the Communication Internet. Smart grids and sensors connected to the internet feed information on electricity consumption to millions, allowing the network to learn and adapt. The Social Energy App, launched in 2012, allows users to compare energy consumption and exchange advice with friends.

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