Analysis of The End of Work By Jeremy Rifkin – Part V: The Dawn of the Post-Market Era

The final section of Rifkin’s book discusses the implications and issues with having more free time versus working time, the diminishing market value of labor, third sector organizations, and the independent sector. Basically, these chapters offer insight into a new, emerging world where the government will have to focus more on the civil society. This selection wraps up Rifkin’s banter on a dramatically increasing crime rate due to automation and the effects of a workerless society.

Re-Engineering the Work Week

Rifkin opens this chapter with a quote from philosopher Herbert Marcuse:

“Automation threatens to render possible the reversal of the relation between free time and working time: the possibility of working time becoming marginal and free time becoming full time. The result would be a radical transvaluation of values, and a mode of existence incompatible with the traditional culture. Advanced industrial society is in permanent mobilization against the possibility.” (Rifkin, 1995)

This concept is just as it sounds. If such an event occurs, there will be a huge shift in the cultures of the world. Inevitably, there will not be enough work to go around, leaving much of the population to its own devices. Such a dynamic would also increase the issues of unemployment and under employment, and, according to Rifkin, the world will go mad having nothing to do and having little to no money to survive, even thought he also points out that the average work time “has increased by 163 hours, or one month a year,” over the past 40 years. (Rifkin, 1995) In this sense, he seems to be contradicting his own argument. An report released by the heritage foundation discusses how automation has reduced human labor. This report provides information that coincides with Rifkin’s evaluation of automation’s effects on the world’s workforce, but it also provides an justification on how we have and will continue to adapt to this altering dynamic. Per the report, although “automation does reduce the human labor needed to produce particular goods and services… it also reduces production costs,” which, in turn, creates competition amongst businesses offering the same products, therefore, “forc[ing] firms to pass these savings on to their customers through lower prices,” and “these lower prices lead consumers to buy more of the now less-expensive product and leave them with more money to spend elsewhere, increasing the demand for labor in those sectors of the economy.” (Burke) Here, we see the other side of the dispute —a resolution, if you will.

A New Social Contract

In the past government has had its place in business, big and small. Conversely, as Rifkin translates it, even “standing armies cannot stop or even slow down the accelerating flow of information and communications frontiers.” (Rifkin, 1995) What this means is governments across the board cannot regulate many industries as in the past because technology is changing the dynamic at such a determined frequency. While this could be cause for alarm on some level, as far as matters of taxation goes, this still may not be all bad as it fundamentally means businesses will be put back into the hands of the people. It kind of sounds like a positive tradeoff.

Empowering the Third Sector

The third sector is “the segment of a nation’s economy that is made up of neither public nor business concerns, as nonprofit health or educational institutions.” (Third sector.) No matter if you are a nurse at a UNC Health Care, an office assistant for the Autism Society, or a professor at Western Carolina University, you are part of the working class in the third sector. I currently work for a nonprofit organization which provides gently used clothing and household goods for a dramatically reduced price. As there will always be a need for affordable options to clothe ourselves and to furnish our homes, it seems like jobs in similar organizations will be safe for many years to come. The same goes for health care and education. People get sick every day. Most people find themselves embarking on two to three career changes or more throughout their life cycle. When speaking of empowering the third sector, that is exactly what Rifkin is speaking of. The issue he raises with this particular dynamic is the threat of “volunteerism” taking over the work force. (Rifkin, 1995) Many organizations use volunteers to cut labor costs across the board. That said, it is unlikely volunteers will actually replace all workers in the end. For instance, most hospital volunteers do not have the same skill set as a medical doctor, and, therefore, they cannot provide the same level of care. To elaborate further, even if doctors volunteer time at a medical facility, chances are they will not do that one hundred percent of the time, because they would not be able to survive financially. So, while volunteerism does eliminate the need for employees on some level, it is very unlikely it will completely wipe out the need for all paid workers.

Globalizing the Social Economy

As alleged by Rifkin, “a new form of barbarianism waits just outside the walls of the modern world.” (Rifkin) In this final chapter, the author poses the question of whether or not the third sector with able to absorb workers who have or will be displaced from the other sectors. If history shows us anything, from the prehistoric world to the modern world, humans have always adapted to new technology. This is an undeniable fact. As I previously stated, Rifkin also believes the world’s growing crime rate is a direct reflection of automation. I would like to pose another point of view for everyone to ponder. Isn’t it possible that there has always been a high crime rate around the world? Isn’t it possible we are just more in tune with it, because today’s technology gives us minute by minute updates on that information? I am not completely disregarding his point of view or the information provided in this book, it just seems like there is always more to the story.

Conclusion

While reading this book, I can understand how Jeremy Rifkin has caused such a stir with modern theorists around the world. This piece of work is extremely thought provoking, indeed. I certainly do not agree with many aspects of his automation theory, but, I have to admit his argument is an emotional one. It makes the reader think of the effects of automation from a different perspective, if for just a few brief moments.

Resources

Burke, L. (n.d.). Automation and Technology Increase Living Standards. Retrieved March 3, 2019, from https://www.heritage.org/jobs-and-labor/report/automation-and-technology-increase-living-standards

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

Third sector. (n.d.). Retrieved March 3, 2019, from https://www.dictionary.com/browse/third-sector

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