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No pat answers --- worth reading more than once...
on 31 October 2000
"We are entering a new age of global markets and automated production. The road to a near-workerless economy is within sight. Whether that road leads to a safe haven or a terrible abyss will depend on how well civilization prepares for the post-market era that will follow on the heels of the Third Industrial Revolution. The end of work could spell a death sentence for civilization as we have come to know it. The end of work could also signal the beginning of a great social transformation, a rebirth of the human spirit. The future lies in our hands."
Thus ends the book, leaving no neat little answers - negative OR positive, but urging us to open our eyes and look around us. I'd seen him on C-span and promptly ordered his book through Amazon. This was when it first came out in hardcover and my oldest son (now a resident of London, having moved from Ohio, USA), assured of a future work using skills from his newly obtained Masters in Computer Science, was concerned I was reading such a book.
"Isn't he one of those Luddites?" I think of myself as a wanna be Luddite, but I saw no signs of this in the book. Instead, Rifkin seems to be concerned with the coming affects of the Informational Revolution.
The book begins with a history of the Industrial Revolution. He gives us a nice tour of the birth of materialism as a concept created and promoted by economists and businessmen. "The term 'consumption," he tells us, "has both English and French roots. In its original form, to consume meant to destroy, to pillage, to subdue, to exhaust. It is a word steeped in violence and until the present century had only negative connotations."
The chapter, "Technology and the Afro-American Experience," addresses the effects of slavery, the supposed freedom of sharecropping, the loss of jobs as a consequence of the invention of the mechanical cotton picker, the rush to the cities and the subsequent loss of jobs as technology slowly progressed. There is a correlation to the success of whichever modern day technology we are experiencing, and the situation in the inner-cities. "Today, millions of African-Americans find themselves hopelesly trapped in a permanent underclass. Unskilled and unneeded, the commodity value of their labor has been rendered virtually useless by the automated technologies that have come to displace them in the new high-tech global economy."
One chapter is entitled "No More Farmers" and discusses the advances of robotizing replacing tasks such as harvesting and livestock management, as well as the end of outdoor agriculture. Other chapters deal with the future for retail, service, blue collar jobs, the declining middle class and the growing chasm between the haves and the have-nots.
In the chapter titled, "A More Dangerous World," he cites the Merva and Fowles study, saying that it "showed a striking correlation between growing wage inequality and increased criminal activity." "Rising unemployment and loss of hope for a better future are among the reasons that tens of thousands of young teenagers are turning to a life of crime and violence."
He does point out that the explosion of the Third Revolution is going to make the social wounds we've tried to heal seem like paper cuts, but does not claim that we should unhook our computers and resist the revolutionary explosion. His suggestion is that we work on 'empowering' the Third Sector' - the independent sector - and turn back to community, to helping each other before it is too late.
"A new generation might transcend the narrow limits of nationalism and begin to think and act as common memebers of the human race, with shared commitments to each other, the community, and the larger biosphere."
He suggests that since hi-tech advances may mean fewer jobs in the market economy, the only way to make sure those whose jobs are lost will be compensated is to have the government supply compensation. Naturally, this gives a flash-back to the welfare/dole system, which I think has freaked out a few reviewers, paralyzing them into a sort of retro response.
But Rifkin isn't just talking about the recipients of old - those stereotypical lower-income, under-educated inner city folks. Indeed, he's talking about many more people. In my family, my second son is a hands on kind of worker who in the past might have been a farmer. No matter how much education he gets, he isn't one of those who will sit well in the new techno age, and already he's feeling the pressures. The high paying jobs for him are life-threatening, so the kind of work he's hired for is low paying, not enough to support himself, let alone the family he has decided he can't afford to start.
Rifkin isn't doing retro work - he suggests tying the subsidized income to service in the community, which he suggests migh help the "growth and development of the social economy and facilitate the long-term transition into a community-centered, service-oriented culture."
His answers are not clearly spelled out - he offers suggestions and insight into where we might be going as a race (the human race). The truth is, we all need to ask some questions and help find the answers.
For those whose minds are set firmly in any direction, you'll get from this book very little - for those with open minds, regardless of your political view of the world, you may find this to be a door to the future.