Rifkin uncovers a paradox at the heart of capitalism that has propelled it to greatness but is now taking it to its death—the inherent entrepreneurial dynamism of competitive markets that drives productivity up and marginal costs down, enabling businesses to reduce the price of their goods and services in order to win over consumers and market share. (Marginal cost is the cost of producing additional units of a good or service, if fixed costs are not counted.) While economists have always welcomed a reduction in marginal cost, they never anticipated the possibility of a technological revolution that might bring marginal costs to near zero, making goods and services priceless, nearly free, and abundant, and no longer subject to market forces.
Now, a formidable new technology infrastructure—the Internet of things (IoT)—is emerging with the potential of pushing large segments of economic life to near zero marginal cost in the years ahead. Rifkin describes how the Communication Internet is converging with a nascent Energy Internet and Logistics Internet to create a new technology platform that connects everything and everyone. Billions of sensors are being attached to natural resources, production lines, the electricity grid, logistics networks, recycling flows, and implanted in homes, offices, stores, vehicles, and even human beings, feeding Big Data into an IoT global neural network. Prosumers can connect to the network and use Big Data, analytics, and algorithms to accelerate efficiency, dramatically increase productivity, and lower the marginal cost of producing and sharing a wide range of products and services to near zero, just like they now do with information goods.
The plummeting of marginal costs is spawning a hybrid economy—part capitalist market and part Collaborative Commons—with far reaching implications for society, according to Rifkin. Hundreds of millions of people are already transferring parts of their economic lives to the global Collaborative Commons. Prosumers are plugging into the fledgling IoT and making and sharing their own information, entertainment, green energy, and 3D-printed products at near zero marginal cost. They are also sharing cars, homes, clothes and other items via social media sites, rentals, redistribution clubs, and cooperatives at low or near zero marginal cost. Students are enrolling in free massive open online courses (MOOCs) that operate at near zero marginal cost. Social entrepreneurs are even bypassing the banking establishment and using crowdfunding to finance startup businesses as well as creating alternative currencies in the fledgling sharing economy. In this new world, social capital is as important as financial capital, access trumps ownership, sustainability supersedes consumerism, cooperation ousts competition, and "exchange value" in the capitalist marketplace is increasingly replaced by "sharable value" on the Collaborative Commons.
Rifkin concludes that capitalism will remain with us, albeit in an increasingly streamlined role, primarily as an aggregator of network services and solutions, allowing it to flourish as a powerful niche player in the coming era. We are, however, says Rifkin, entering a world beyond markets where we are learning how to live together in an increasingly interdependent global Collaborative Commons.
Here, Jeremy Rifkin explores how Internet technology and renewable energy are merging to create a powerful "Third Industrial Revolution." He asks us to imagine hundreds of millions of people producing their own green energy in their homes, offices, and factories, and sharing it with each other in an "energy internet," just like we now create and share information online.
Rifkin describes how the five-pillars of the Third Industrial Revolution will create thousands of businesses, millions of jobs, and usher in a fundamental reordering of human relationships, from hierarchical to lateral power, that will impact the way we conduct commerce, govern society, educate our children, and engage in civic life.
Rifkin's vision is already gaining traction in the international community. The European Union Parliament has issued a formal declaration calling for its implementation, and other nations in Asia, Africa, and the Americas, are quickly preparing their own initiatives for transitioning into the new economic paradigm.
The Third Industrial Revolution is an insider's account of the next great economic era, including a look into the personalities and players — heads of state, global CEOs, social entrepreneurs, and NGOs — who are pioneering its implementation around the world.
Imagine waking up one day to find that virtually every activity you engage in outside your immediate family has become a "paid-for" experience. It's all part of a fundamental change taking place in the nature of business, contends Jeremy Rifkin. After several hundred years as the dominant organizing paradigm of civilization, the traditional market system is beginning to deconstruct. On the horizon looms the Age of Access, an era radically different from any we have known.