Events - 04.05.2018 - 00:00 

Jeremy Rifkin’s plea for the "Zero Marginal Cost Society"

In his address on the third day of the St.Gallen Symposium, the US-American economist Jeremy Rifkin outlined a society beyond capitalism and advocated a “Zero Marginal Cost Society”.

4 May 2018. On the third day, it was the turn of Jeremy Rifkin, the man who provided the idea for this year’s Symposium topic. Moderator Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach welcomed the economist as an alternative pioneer of digitisation. The title of the international conference, “Beyond the end of work”, was inspired by his book The End of Work. The Decline of the Global Labor Force and the Dawn of the Post-Market Era.

The digital revolution and changes in society and business have occupied this American social researcher for years. Jeremy Rifkin, publicist, adviser to the EU Commission and founder of the Foundation on Economic Trends in Washington, repeatedly emphasises in his works that the digital revolution is making many jobs superfluous.

The twilight of the capitalist economic system

At the beginning of his address, Jeremy Rifkin painted a gloomy scenario: a system in which a dozen people owned more than half of global assets, the destruction of the environment was acutely endangering the earth and in which anthropogenic climate change was threatening future generations, did not have a future. Rifkind said that we were at the outset of the third industrial revolution, triggered by global interconnectedness through the internet, and added that the digital revolution was a big economic earthquake. The world of work was changing rapidly and radically. Soon, only a fraction of the world’s population would be working in production. More and more people would be replaced by machines.

Future business leaders should set their sights on the creative potential of the interconnectivity of all things and people through the internet and make exclusive use of renewable energy sources for the manufacture of new products. Rifkin emphasised that thanks to the internet, corporate production no longer depended by any means on increasingly better machines and employees, but on the question as to how firms were able to exploit interconnectivity. Information, streams of goods and energy could be shared through a worldwide web and deployed in a focused manner. This would then result in an economy of sharing and bartering, which would replace capitalism based on fossil-based energy.

Sharing and bartering economy

The “sharing economy” would be more sustainable than existing market economies since it would generate new business models which did not fall back on obsolete means of production from the last industrial revolution. Rifkin emphasised that the economy of sharing and bartering would result in a new paradigm that would change everything: the economy, society, our way of life and our way of thinking. Consumers would be transformed into the “prosumers” of the zero marginal cost society, who thanks to new technologies would be able to design, produce and sell products of their own. Buildings, machines and means of transport would generate electric power and feed into a worldwide energy grid. Capitalism would be driven out and in a few decades at the latest would only take place in a few niches.

Jeremy Rifkin concluded his address by saying that the zero marginal cost society was not only a beautiful vision but, in view of current developments, the best way of protecting the inhabitants of the earth from the collapse of all humanly conceived systems and of actively helping to shape the digital revolution for the benefit of everyone.

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