The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism is a non-fiction book written by American author Jeremy Rifkin.

Official description:

In The Zero Marginal Cost Society, New York Times bestselling author Jeremy Rifkin describes how the emerging Internet of Things is speeding us to an era of nearly free goods and services, precipitating the meteoric rise of a global Collaborative Commons and the eclipse of capitalism.

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.

Your rating:
1 opinions, 0 replies
Add your opinion:
(mouse over or touch to update)
Add your opinion
2 votes
Apr 19, 2015

Jeremy Rifkin's new book "The zero marginal cost society, the internet of things, the collaborative commons, and the eclipse of capitalism" is a very dense read. Well researched and documented and seems to have a lot of rationalizations for current societal issues and situations. Especially the new ways the millennial's interact with everything. The possibilities of societies morphing in the future into the third industrial revolution of the 'collaborative commons' organizational structure seams plausible (and a bit hopeful), and while I agree with most of his presumptions, (but with a little less of his self-congratulatory prognostication pronouncements); what I'm looking for is any questions or rebuttals to his theories.

The major one I see is that current wealthy, capitalistically successful, people, are going to actively oppose any change that diminishes their current power and wealth status. Nepotism is a very strong motivator over the social contract with your neighbors, and I believe the real motivator for Capitalism. I think he glossed over the real struggle and costs (in lives) for labor to oppose capitalistic control historically. (strikes, Agent Provocateur actions, etc) I think that will be a bigger force than his supposition it will just be overcome by the mass of distributed peer-to-peer networks that are starting, and are going to eventually develop. And the current situation with the Net Neutrality 'debate', is a specific example. Both the underhanded and back-door way the current controlling interests are manipulating it, and the public backlash that is occurring, and has previously occurred (SIPA, occupy movements, etc).

I also think the coming transparency in society (due to omnipresent cameras, internet tracking, marketing databases, etc) will have a much greater effect, both on citizens, AND the fact that the back-door shenanigans that governments and leaders have historically done, will also be much more observable by the people they are governing. And this should be for the good, as a camera on all police actions really does help with 'policing the populous'; as Supreme Court Justice Louis Dembitz Brandeis stated, "Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman."

What's even more interesting is how the now more visible libertarian movement will take to these future possibilities. They like the NAP and personal accountability and responsibility for your actions, while seeming to ignore the unethical behaviors inherent in the more Randian objectivist dogma within their literature. But some seem to ignore that humans naturally congregate together in societies that have rules, and therefore a system of governance for the current society. Another Supreme Court Justice has a quote I also like, that seems to sum up both libertarian ideologies and the future posited in the book; Oliver Wendell Homes Jr. "The right to swing my fist ends where the other man's nose begins."

Too bad the current Supreme Court isn't as aware of reality as their forebearers were.

So I think it is a good book, got some interesting ideas and presumptions, but looking for discussion and critiques about it.

Add your opinion
Challenge someone to answer this topic:
Invite an OpiWiki user:
Invite your friend via email:
Share it: