Economist, never anticipated the possibility of a technological revolution

Economist, political advisor and activist Jeremy Rifkin believes the current
economic system is soon to self-destruct. Accurately predicting technological
and fiscal trends, Rifkin writes of a third industrial revolution, which
credibly demonstrates the contradictions of capitalism, its immanent death and
the necessity of renewable energy.

The collapse of capitalism has long been prophesized, profoundly so, by
philosopher Karl Marx. As the author of The Communist Manifesto, written in
1848, Marx predicted the conflicts of overproduction, concentration of capital
and a rising intelligent proletariat. (Marx 19:83:210-214). Marx based the
heart of his system on ideas of human production. Marx’s study of the division
of labour is extremely like philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s. The want for
private property led to the division of labour, which in turn gave rise to the
subsistence of unconnectedS2  social classes based on economic variances. Believing
that the existence of the proletariat alone, would render the State unneeded, Marx
argued the state to be an instrument of social control used by the members of
one class to suppress the members of another.

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“In place of the old
bour­geois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an
association in which the free development of each is the condi­tion for the
development of all.” (The Communist Manifesto (1848), in Marx-Engels
Selected Works (Mos­cow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962)

 

Subjected to critique,
scholars such as Jeremy Rifkin discuss the ways in which the work of Marx did
not foresee all the core contradictions of the system.

“We are beginning to witness
a paradox at the heart of capitalism, one that has propelled it to greatness
but is now threatening its future: The inherent dynamism of competitive markets
is bringing costs so far down that many goods and services are becoming nearly
free, abundant, and no longer subject to market forces. While economists have
always welcomed a reduction in marginal cost, they never anticipated the
possibility of a technological revolution that might bring those costs to near
zero. (Rifkin, 2016).

The far-reaching grip of capitalism
infiltrated systems throughout society, and as financial power transcended into
political power, its influence was seen in government, media, education and science.

How has capitalist theory impacted environmental changes, and humanitarian
management of said eco issuesS3 ?

A core characteristic central to capitalism
is production for profit, which is essential to maintain a competitive market.

To remain stable, rates of production must grow, and for them to grow, mass
consumption is required. This is embedded in the core tenets of capitalism as an economic system. Higher
consumption leads to higher production, thus leading to higher sales and higher
profits.

Our planet’s ecological and
natural resources are finite, and should be preserved for sustainability
purposes. Greenhouse emissions have
reached life threatening levels which has placed humanity in the world’s sixth
extinction period. The effects of global warming are stark; extreme weather
conditions, the depletion of natural resources, deforestation, rising water
levels, and air pollution are just a few to name. Industry induced greenhouse
gases are directly responsible for a large percentage of climate change. A re,
a recent study suggests that two thirds of man-made global warming emissions
were produced by just 90 companies (Heede, R. Climatic Change (2014) 122: 229. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-013-0986-y).  This is due to the excessively high levels of overproduction
which are required to surpass market competitors, as well as the gain of
capital.

Harvard Professor Naomi Oreskes has written comprehensive reports on corporate
funded climate denial. Oreskes highlights these business attempts to discredit
evidential research in her essay The
Scientific Consensus on Climate Change:

 

“Some corporations whose revenues might be adversely affected by controls
on carbon dioxide emissions have also alleged major uncertainties in the
science. Such statements suggest that there might be substantive disagreement
in the scientific community about the reality of anthropogenic climate change.

This is not the case.”

The misuse of corporate power is presumed to have influenced other
renunciations of global warming such as statements made by government,
particularly in the United States. The
president, Donald Trump, openly promotes climate change scepticism. His doubts
towards the legitimacy of global warming were amplified on June 1st
2017, when Trump announced that the U.S. would cease all participation in the
2015 Paris agreement on climate change mitigation. After the U.S. abide by the
four-year exit process, they will no longer be required to report their
emissions to the United Nations. The Paris agreement cannot stop global
rising temperatures; however, it has united 195 countries in a conscious effort
to prevent a more dangerous future. After China, the U.S. are the second
largest emitters of greenhouse gases. Their renunciation says to the rest of
the world, that they will not accept responsibility for their contributions.

This dismissal of collective responsibility is dangerous, selfish and in the
name of capitalism.

In addition to environmental
factors, the withdrawal enables the U.S. to compete unfairly against its
production opponents. The German car industry expressed apprehensions towards
its ability to stay competitive, whilst adhering to environmental standards. Matthias Wissmann, president of the
German auto industry lobby group VDA believes that the U.S. has purposely placed
themselves at a greater production advantage, and that Europe will have to
reassess its environmental standards.  This
deregulation has arguably occurred in the name of profit, which refers back to
the nature of capitalism.

“The regrettable announcement by the USA makes it inevitable that Europe must
facilitate a cost efficient and economically feasible climate policy to remain
internationally competitive… The preservation of our competitive position is
the precondition for successful climate protection. This correlation is often
underestimated.” (Wissmann, 2017)

 

Professor Christian Fuchs
discusses influencing factors in his essay Donald
Trump: A Critical Theory-Perspective on Authoritarian CapitalismS4 h5 , written in 2017. Fuchs critically analyses changes to
the capitalist system explaining that, combined with political anxiety and
demagoguery, these factors are responsible for the election of Donald Trump, the
first ever president of the United States with no political or military
experience. Trump is more of a business tycoon, who directly benefits from
capitalist economics.

 

“The rise of Trump is the story of how a billionaire came to political
power. He did not bring about a non-elitist people’s politics, but the rise of
the capitalist class as directly ruling and dominating politics.” (Fuchs, 2017)

The election of Trump was a result of the right wing winning the people’s democratic
process, as was the British vote to exit the European Union. The far right
created a form of idealism, although largely critiqued by the left, centrists –
even members of the right itself – for underlying tones of racism, sexism and
homophobia. At a Q&A
on the European Union in January 2014, the former leader of UKIP and Pro Brexit
campaigner, Nigel Farage, denied that discrimination against women existed.

Farage declared that women were simply “worth far less” than many of their male
counterparts.

“A woman who has a client base, has a child and takes two or three years off –
she is worth far less to her employer when she comes back than when she went
away because that client base won’t be stuck as rigidly to her portfolio,”
(Farage, 2014).

Although an idealism of inequality and wealth divide appears dystopian to some,
to others it something to be achieved. Donald Trump is a prime example of a gifted
demagogue by its very definition, exploiting fundamental weakness in democracy.

The totalitarian aspects of a society where a glass ceiling sits between social
classes, particularly the proletariat, is advantageous for those who wish to maintain
a hierarchy.

Considering the undisclosed benefits of Trump promoting disbelief towards
climate change, as well as the immense financial incentives for corporations to
be unrestricted in carbon emission responsibility.

The introduction of a new economic system is paramount
for the resolution of sustainability issues, such as resource scarcity, and the
preservation of life on earth. A generational shift from a carbon-intensive
energy system to a carbon-neutral energy system is essential to avert further climate
change. As the capital centric nature of our current economy is destroying the
environment, what societal consensus could advocate this?

 

Rifkin believes that not
only will capitalism be the cause of its own death, but that it has also
created a new economy, the sharing economy. Currently in its early days, Rifkin
describes it as capitalisms “little fledgling baby”. The sharing economy supports
open source communities such as Wikipedia, which is collaboratively written by
volunteers. Anyone with Internet access can contribute to Wikipedia articles;
it is collaboratively maintained by “prosumers”. Although capitalism initially
may have a complicated relationship with its economical child, the new and
influential economy has already began to evolve.

 

A sharing
economy encompasses collective responsibility, which is essential in order to
sustain a habitable ecosystem. By sSharing human, physical and intellectual
resources, strategies and opportunities could be created to support renewable
energy.

 

“Thousands of hobbyists are
already making their own products using 3-D printers, open-source software and recycled plastic as feedstock, at near zero marginal
cost. Meanwhile, more than six million students are enrolled in free massive
open online courses, the content of which is distributed at near zero marginal
cost.” (Rifkin, j. 2012)

To envision a future where every home and office has the means to harvest its
own renewable energy, we must consider the further possibilities of its merge
with internet technology. In developed countries, the creation and sharing of
information online has become an intrinsic behaviour, and with the anticipated
rise of independently harvested green energy, it is plausible to consider an
“energy internet”. If surplus energy were to be uploaded, and shared by
prosumers, energy could become democratised. Referring to the work of Marx, the
means of production in terms of an energy internet may no longer be privatised.

The expansion of open source websites demonstrates to the informed democracy
that other aspects of society could operate similarly, and that freedom of
information informs the intelligentsia to guide the change. Could the rise of
the ‘intelligent proletariat’ lead to collective eco responsibility, and a fair
distribution of labour?

The idealism created by the far-right wing, is one based on wilful ignorance. The
aversion of responsibility, combined with ethnocentrism formulates the perfect
demographic to condition, and with ideologically colonisation spreading online,
the political echo chamber continues.    

”I believe in an America
where millions of Americans believe in an America that’s the America millions
of Americans believe in. That’s the America I love.”

—Mitt
Romney (January 2012)

 
The specifics of Rifkin’s predictions are to be disputed, as were Marx’. They
however remain vital thinkers for their unique concepts create hope for a responsible
future, post-capitalism. The opposition have responded with critique, rather
than an essential, fervent, idealistic utopia of their own.

Whether or not Rifkin’s
proposed sharing economy could completely eradicate capitalism is, at this
point, unknown. With the varying elements of the vast and institutionalised
system changing, evolving and destructing at various rates, I believe it is
more probable that a co-existence could occur between the two. The sharing
economy, birthed alongside millennials, will mature with them and perhaps by
the mid-century there could be signs of a realistic coalition. A system beyond
capitalism has long been anticipated, but it is only now that actual concepts
are becoming viable infrastructures that economic change looms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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