“The Zero Marginal Cost Society” – Jeremy Rifkin

It has been a while since i have done a book review but a book this past year that simply made me think was Jeremy Rifkin’s “The Zero Marginal Costs Society”.  I am not big on academic type books, but since this book combines economics, technology and envisioning the future it seemed a natural fit for me.  It is a thought-provoking book that makes us ponder the future, while questioning the past.

One of the early and guiding principles throughout the book is the death of good old-fashioned capitalism.  It is one of those things that I think about.  When Adam Smith published “The Wealth of Nations” in 1776 was that it?.  Some Scottish guy figured out how world economics work and we need listen to no one else from here to eternity?  Alan Greenspan certainly thinks so if you read his interesting auto biography “Age of Turbulence”.  But Rifkin challenges this notion as he sees a society transforming itself.  He has latched on to something called the Commons, which is the central guiding economic principal for the book.

The commons is a simple concept being driven by the millennial’s.  Much of it is centered on the idea we do not need to build or manufacture new services, we can leverage what we have.   Examples of this are things many of us are already using.  Look how Uber is transforming Taxi cab services.  Why have a fleet when we all have cars, many which sit idle in our drive ways.  Another service is AirBnB.  Why book with an expensive hotel when people have homes or second homes they could rent.  Rather than have to eat at restaurants for every meal, you have a kitchen and are in a neighborhood versus a tourist resort.  think about these scenarios from the point of view of Yellow Cab or Hilton Hotels.  Your competition has no garage, no mechanics, no need to build a resort, hire maids, wash laundry, own a restaurant etc..Uber and AirBnB have an online presence but need to invest little in the way of capital.

Rifkin tackles other areas like 3D printing, health care etc.. and in the process rethinking the way the future economy will work.  He is not stating the market economy will die but because of technology advances it will alter how the economy works.  One example will be how 3D printing will impact manufacturing.  What will it mean when we can print many item son our own with no need to go to a store and but a battery?  What does that mean to Duracell?  This can also extend to organ transplants as there is already a company in San Diego called Organovo working on just that.  Think of the trans-formative power to healthcare if we could 3D print a new kidney based on your own DNA rather than seeking a donor, hoping that your body will not reject the new kidney, with origins based on another human being?

I highly recommend this book to anyone, including Ayn Rand followers.  It is through provoking as we think how technology is advancing and causing us to rethink economic models, that have lasted for over a hundred years  It is a worthwhile read and one I recommend.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann April 28, 2015


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