This book is well known in the field of economics, public policy and environmental studies. If the title alone doesn’t draw you in, then maybe the following question will: Could society’s age old demand for increased productivity and efficiency lead to “The End of Work” as we know it? As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for. In this eye-opening book, Jeremy Rifkin argues that improvements such as automation, computerization and re-engineering mean that more goods and services can be produced with less human labor. If less people are working then who will buy all these new products that hit the market at an accelerated rate?
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He goes on to say that many of today’s technological advances have simply allowed manufactures, retailers, farmers, service providers and government to produce far more goods and services at greater profit margins and with far less workers.
Rifkin chronicles the technological innovations and market-driven forces that are moving us to the edge of a near workless world in what he calls the “Third Industrial Revolution.” (p.xlvi) At the time this book was written more then 800 million human beings were unemployed or underemployed in the world and participating in what Rifkin called the “great migration” (p. xliii) of workers leaving jobs that technology had taken away while desperately looking for the others that it was creating. “In the United States, corporations are eliminating more then 2 million corporate jobs annually.” Every week more and more employees are being let go as others in offices and factories around the world wait in fear. Hoping to be spared one more day. (p. 3)
For most of the 1980’s it was fashionable to link foreign competition and cheap labor markets abroad with the record number of layoffs in the United States but recent in-depth studies of the U.S. manufacturing sector have proven otherwise. Noted economists Paul R. Krugman of MIT and Robert L. Lawrence of Harvard University suggest, on the basis of extensive data, that “the concern, widely voiced during the 1950’s and 1960’s, that industrial workers would lose their jobs because of automation, is closer to the truth than the current preoccupation with a presumed loss of manufacturing jobs because of foreign competition.” (p. 8) All the while corporate profits and productivity continue to rise, exclusively benefiting only the top executives and stockholders. Rifkin warns that the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots could lead to social and political upheaval on a global scale. (p.13)
It should be obvious that if capitalist producers continue to replace human labor with machines they would inevitably be “digging their own grave, as there would be fewer and fewer consumers with sufficient purchasing power to buy their products.” (p. 17) Henry Ford, to his credit, suggested that workers be paid enough to buy the products companies were producing. Otherwise, he asked, “Who would buy my cars?” (p. 24). His colleagues chose to ignore the advice. It seems today that the business community has failed to understand that by replacing workers with laborsaving technologies they have created larger numbers of unemployed and underemployed workers who lack purchasing power.
Rifkin goes on to sight several specific examples of where technology has replaced jobs in the private sector as he attempts to analyze where this new and growing “reserve army” of unemployed will look for work. This brings us to government. “By the mid-1970’s more then 19 percent of all U.S. workers had jobs in the public sector, making the government the largest employer in the United States.”...