- May 7 2015
Rifkin, one of the world’s most visionary economists, gave a keynote speech that topped off two days of intense debate, conversation, and exchange. He’s president of the Foundation on Economic Trends in Washington, D.C., and the bestselling author of 20 books. Rifkin’s writings on the impact of science and technology on the economy have influenced world leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. The European Union and the United Nations have both endorsed his vision of a sustainable, post-carbon era.
His most recent book is The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism.
On Wednesday, Rifkin told the room about our inevitable shift towards a Quality of Life economic model, and why it will take courage for us to build a more people-centered society. “We are beginning to glimpse the sunset of one of the great economic eras,” he said. But he also said the sun is rising on a third industrial revolution. For the first time since the birth of capitalism and socialism, we have a new economic paradigm.
He said that throughout history, when three new types of technology emerge and converge –communications, energy sources, and transportation and logistics – they “fundamentally alter the way we manage, power, and move economic life.” This is currently the case, with Internet communications, inexpensive renewable energy, and driverless transportation.
This rides upon a new platform, the Internet of Things. Fourteen billion sensors already connect devices and human beings through the Internet of Things, which Rifkin said will make the human race "an extended family.” Big Data and algorithms are democratizing the distribution of everything from electricity (that people can now produce themselves) to manufacturing (as hobbyists learn to make goods cheaply using 3D printers).
Rifkin talked about “zero marginal cost.” Marginal cost is the price of creating an additional unit of a good or service beyond the fixed costs. The current technological revolution has driven the costs for many goods and services to nothing or nearly nothing. Part of the reason is that proactive consumers, or “prosumers,” are producing and sharing all kinds of commodities, such as music, news, and e-books. Even students can receive higher education online for free via Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).
This revolution has moved from information goods to physical goods and services. On top of all that, the sharing economy means that millions of people are sharing cars, apartments, clothing, and many other items. Globally, we are more connected and interdependent than ever. Vertical value chains are giving way to horizontal ones. Ownership of goods will become less important than access to them. He believes that when more people share goods and services it enhances our economic and social well-being.
Rifkin’s vision of the future is optimistic – yet cautiously so, as he also addressed what he called "the elephant in the room”: climate change, noting that "we are now talking about the survival of the human race.” He said we still have the opportunity to address this crisis in time, that the scenario he has set out is a solution. “This vision and game plan can save us,” he said. But “there is no plan B.”
When Jeremy Rifkin talks, people from policymakers to pundits listen. Wednesday afternoon, attendees at the Quality of Life conference found out why.
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"Ownership of goods will become less important than access to them. He believes that when more people share goods and services it enhances our economic and social well-being." Act 4:32 two thousand yrs ago gave that as a valued perspective.
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