Analysis of The End of Work By Jeremy Rifkin – Part IV: The Price of Progress

This section of The End of Work covers the topics of potentially permanent job loss, a dramatic farewell the working class, how automation effects all of the nations, and rising crime rates. At this point in the book, it seems it is Rifkin’s belief that automation will surely destroy life as we know it. It’s almost as if he is telling us the world is going to come to an end, and it’s all because of automation.

High-Tech Winner and Losers

When talking about high-tech winners and losers, Rifkin means that the corporations of the manufacturing sector are the winner and the workers who have lost their jobs, due to automation, are the losers. According to his research findings, in an effort to yield bigger profits, many manufacturing companies jumped on the “trickle-effect” train and never looked back. The trickle effect occurred when businesses saw the need to “keep up with consumer demand,” while “reducing the costs of products.” (Rifkin, 1995) While this created a number of jobs in the industry, those who were uneducated or undereducated found themselves out of work. David Autor, professor of economics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), has a different perspective on automation. While he is no stranger to the effects of automation on the workforce, he says that predicting automation will eventually destroy all jobs is an “arrogant” assessment of the situation. (Autor) History shows there have been many times when our country has faced job loss as a result of technology; however, he says, “There’s always new work to do.” (Autor)

To watch Professor David Autor’s TED talk on automation, click here.

Requiem for the Working Class

Merriam-Webster defines requiem as “a mass for the dead.” (Culpepper, 2012) Clearly, the title of this section implies that the day of the working class citizen is all but gone. Rifkin paints a grim picture of displaced workers who are part of “the other world”—“workers who are experiencing rising levels of stress in high-tech work environments and increasing job insecurity…” (Rifkin, 1995) While, this is a matter not be taken lightly, I feel his statements are a bit overdramatized. This goes back to David Autor’s argument that we have always advanced right along with new technological advances. I would also like to point out, no job is stress free. Furthermore, the jobs of yesteryear—physically demanding manufacturing and service jobs—were much harder on the body.

The Fate of Nations

In this chapter, Rifkin discusses how automation has effects the rest of the world, including manufacturing plants in Mexico and India. Basically, he gives the same automation scenario for third world countries. Consistent with his argument of how computers have changed the American landscape, Rifkin also argues that “machines are replacing workers in every developing country.” (Rifkin, 1995) A 2015 study, conducted by the Oxford Martin School, corresponds with this argument; however, although “the majority feel automation poses a major challenge to societies and policymakers,” they are “optimistic that automation and technology will help to boost productivity over time, and believe that investment in education will be the most effective policy response to the potential negative impacts of automation.” (This:; et al., 2016) In contrast to Rifkin’s claims, it seems people still have hope that we can continue to progress and thrive in a computerized world, and that can be accomplished by planning ahead.

A More Dangerous World

The final chapter in Part IV, focuses on the rise in teenage violence. The reasons for this are “rising unemployment and loss of hope for a better future,” which, in turn, is causing more and more teenagers to “turn to a life of crime and violence.”  (Rifkin, 1995) While Rifkin may have a plausible argument here, is there more to it than that? Quite possibly, bad parenting could also be a dominating factor in this trend. An article published by the American Society for the Positive Care of Children presents an alternative argument to Rifkin’s theory. Bad parenting can also cause a child to go astray. Some symptoms of bad behavior are the inability to have long lasting friendships, psychological disorders, depression, low self-esteem, and a tendency toward violent behaviors. (2018)

Conclusion

The information presented thus far paints a picture of gloom and doom for the future. The more I read of this book, the more I keep hoping Rifkin will at least touch on a solution. Hopefully, in my next blog, I will be able to report he does exactly that.

Resources

Bad Parenting for a Child | Negative Effects. (2018, October 17). Retrieved February 27, 2019, from https://americanspcc.org/2014/07/17/effects-bad-parenting-child/

Culpepper, J. C. (2000). Merriam‐Webster Online: The Language Center0011The Staff of Merriam‐Webster. Merriam‐Webster Online: The Language Center. 47 Federal Street, PO Box 281, Springfield, MA 01102; Tel: (413) 734‐3134; Fax: (413) 731‐5979;: Merriam‐Webster, Inc c1999. Free. Electronic Resources Review, 4(1/2), 9-11. doi:10.1108/err.2000.4.1_2.9.11

Rifkin, J. (1995). The end of work. 1st ed. New York, N.Y.: Putnam’s Sons.

This:, S., 2019, 2. F., 2019, 2. F., 2019, 1. F., 2019, 0. F., 2019, 0. F., . . . 2019, 0. J. (2016, January 27).Impact of automation on developing countries puts up to 85% of jobs at risk. Retrieved February 27, 2019, from https://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/news/201601_Technology_at_Work_2

2 thoughts on “Analysis of The End of Work By Jeremy Rifkin – Part IV: The Price of Progress

  1. Jennifer,

    As I read your summary I would have to agree. The author seems to be one-sided and unwilling to accept future change. It is good to hear negatives that may come from an invention/idea, but it is also good to hear about future possibilities as well. As they say, “history is a good indicator of the future” but not everyone truly knows what the future holds. The fear of change holds a lot of people back, but to be willing to accept change and harness the inevitable shows the true trait of a positive forward looking entrepreneur. Hopefully Rifkin can provide some positive light to what the future holds.

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    1. I agree with you Paul. This book was written in 1995. We are supposed to be fully immersed in a world of doom and gloom right now. I think it would be good for Rifkin to reassess his original thoughts on this subject.

      Like

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