The Rise of Anti-Capitalism

391px-McKinley_ProsperityJeremy Rifkin, author of “The Zero Marginal Cost Society” suggests in his op-ed for the New York Times that we are experiencing the “creeping reality of a zero-marginal-cost economy”:

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.

The first inkling of the paradox came in 1999 when Napster, the music service, developed a network enabling millions of people to share music without paying the producers and artists, wreaking havoc on the music industry. Similar phenomena went on to severely disrupt the newspaper and book publishing industries. Consumers began sharing their own information and entertainment, via videos, audio and text, nearly free, bypassing the traditional markets altogether.

The huge reduction in marginal cost shook those industries and is now beginning to reshape energy, manufacturing and education. Although the fixed costs of solar and wind technology are somewhat pricey, the cost of capturing each unit of energy beyond that is low. This phenomenon has even penetrated the manufacturing sector. 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…

[continues in the New York Times]


Majestic is gadfly emeritus.

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50 Comments on "The Rise of Anti-Capitalism"

  1. Now is the time to push a guaranteed minimum income for all.

    • Simon Valentine | Mar 17, 2014 at 10:20 am |

      i hope you’re satirical about the ulterior reference option

      “if ‘blah’ then more income” aka mercenary … despotism …
      the fear people have of “not being more valuable” than someone else
      so deep seated in the universal human slave

    • sonicbphuct | Mar 17, 2014 at 1:22 pm |

      it’s always struck me as a little bit creepy that the particular implementation of “capitalism” the US and Europe (and basically, as far as I can tell, the rest of the world) use is the Friedman model, while at the same time, it was Friedman who came up with the guaranteed minimum income (in the CH, they’re voting in Oct/Nov on a “Bedingungsloses Grundeinkommen” – it won’t pass, but it’s interesting).

      • emperorreagan | Mar 17, 2014 at 1:48 pm |

        Minimum income is eventually a necessary buffer to allow elites to protect their accumulated wealth, as historic buffers begin to fail.

  2. Solar power is your near free energy? REALLY?

    Nuclear is nearly half the price and causes less than a tenth as many human deaths per TWh as solar….

    • Simon Valentine | Mar 17, 2014 at 10:23 am |

      ha ha, and light speed is invariant, and pensions never fail

      • Oh I made a couple mistakes there actually…

        When I say solar is an order of magnitude more lethal than nuclear in general, that was incorrect. It’s 11x more lethal than *Chernobyl alone*, even including deaths from Chernobyl that haven’t happened yet.

        For comparison, lethality of fossil fuels are hundreds or thousands of times greater still.

        Also gotta factor in land use. Unless the US wants to blanket *the land area of an entire state or two* with solar arrays, we gotta find something better. Or we could just bulldoze and convert the existing coal plants..

        Clean, safe, too cheap to meter. That promise still awaits…

        Oh, and use thorium reactors this time. No waste and meltdowns are physically impossible.

        • I was unaware solar had caused any deaths. Could you link to that info?

        • Simon Valentine | Mar 17, 2014 at 12:45 pm |

          11? now you’ve got me interested. was it intended that i be interested? i’m not actually “not for nuke power”, i was just hoping for some more on that you have at the end there. no nasty nasty wastes. good deal! do you have link to an exemplary power plant as such? i should like to check it out

        • kowalityjesus | Mar 17, 2014 at 7:55 pm |

          hellz yes. Git thum thoruum raacters.

          It’s a waste of time to research Fusion because Thorium is already everything that Fusion ever wanted to be.

          • Fusion will arrive soon enough. There’s the joke about it always being fifty years away — but when you look at that as ‘fifty years given current funding’ and compare to the way funding has been cut year after year, the estimates in terms of total dollars to completion haven’t actually changed much. If we actually cared we could have fusion plants *already*!

        • Well, there will be waste. Just a whole lot less and it’ll cease being radioactive after a few hundred years.

    • I agree, for large scale sustainable power right now, nothing beats hydro and nuclear. But you also can’t just slap a couple reactors on your roof as a near-free, passive supplement to what you get from the grid, like you can with solar panels.

      • But what about FUSION

        • Sure, you can. Looked at renting a cabin, and one whole side of it was passive solar, but it could only provide heat and hot water, and back up propane was still recommended. It’s helpful to have, but it illustrates the broader principle that green options are unable to keep up with demand. Some friends run hydro stations, though, and they can make a living selling excess energy back to the grid.

          • I wish I had a Fusion Reactor. I’d make you all PAY for endless energy. heh.

          • Rhoid Rager | Mar 18, 2014 at 9:17 pm |

            what region are you in?
            why heat space with solar when you can use wood? thermal solar for hot water is good, but it should be mixed with a little PV and a battery bank for lights. you can cook with wood (no propane necessary).

          • The place was on the WV/VA border on a former orchard, so plenty of wood. The chimney was long gone, though–the cottage was 200 yrs old. Way up a dirt road on top of a notoriously stormy mountain, too. I don’t know how a propane truck or construction crew would ever get up there. Or me in the winter, so it was a no go.

        • Simon Valentine | Mar 17, 2014 at 12:47 pm |

          ooooooh fusion fusion fusion fusion *does the fusion dance*
          hydrogen, right? from … water? heavy water?

        • Jonas Planck | Mar 18, 2014 at 12:57 am |

          Loll… Sure, fusion’s safer and more stable than fission… fusion reactors melt down at something like 2% the rate of fission reactors… but when they DO melt down, WHOOO DOGGY!!! Makes Nagasaki look like a firecracker by comparison. That’s why fusion nukes are the genocider’s weapon of choice… you can wipe a whole planet clean for a fraction of the cost of using mass drivers or fission nukes, and none of the residual radiation or tectonic instability! It’s also why most ships run on high-yield capacitors and deridium cores. You think your government would let YOU drive cars if the engines of those cars could be easily converted to WMD capable of igniting a planet’s atmosphere? Sure, gas is flammable, but you can’t burn up an entire continent with it in one go.

          • Simon Valentine | Mar 18, 2014 at 1:12 pm |

            pfft, that’s what invisi girl’s for

            “when propaganda goes tits-up”

  3. Simon Valentine | Mar 17, 2014 at 10:26 am |

    according to post-WW America, morality is communism or socialism.
    no bullshit is ever new

  4. Thurlow Weed | Mar 17, 2014 at 10:31 am |

    What a useless collection of fantastic statements.

  5. AManCalledDa-da | Mar 17, 2014 at 11:42 am |

    Capitalism will be doomed once a truly viable free energy system is finally released to run households and cars. Then all bets are off and we all join The Federation.

    “Space, the Final Frontier…”

    • kowalityjesus | Mar 17, 2014 at 7:53 pm |

      I followed that idea fairly closely for a while. What technology do you think is a good candidate to supplant “the grid?”

  6. emperorreagan | Mar 17, 2014 at 12:29 pm |

    Anti-capitalist sentiment has existed since the beginning of what we call capitalism.

    The article in general made my head hurt. If you’re supplying your own green energy, why would you program your facility to go off the grid only when energy prices spike? You’d maximize your off-grid time and feed to the grid/neighbors/whatever when you have excess; you’d draw from the grid when you had a deficit.

    The marginal cost of online retailing at a place like Amazon, as another example, drops because some of the cost of doing business is externalized to the customer (you have to have a computer, power, and internet connection) coupled with warehouses where they take advantage of labor laws to pay people as little as possible, thereby externalizing the cost of supplying a living wage or healthcare to the state, charities, and others.

    Nonprofits are going to be the great change to the economy? HA!

  7. BuzzCoastin | Mar 17, 2014 at 12:41 pm |

    “My consumers are they not my producers?” Finnegans Wake

    starting around the time electricity harnessed humans (1800ish)
    the avaiablity of cheap luxury goods became the norm
    even the average “poor” aMerkins have at their disposal
    goods & services unavaliable at any price a few centuries before

  8. The inherent dynamism of competitive markets …

    What the bloody hell is that fraudster, Rifkin, talking about?
    He was that oil company stooge who claimed that peak oil was the cause of the global economic meltdown (not endless ultra-leveraged insurance swindles thanks to credit default swaps and the other credit derivatives from the banksters — claimed that those speculated upwards oil prices were due to oil shortages, completely disproven by that Baltic Index.

    Rifkin has been over in Europe the last few years pushing cap-and-trade, the latest extension of shadow banking (free money for the oil companies and banksters) so take everything Rifkins says with a ton of salt!

    • Rhoid Rager | Mar 18, 2014 at 9:27 pm |

      Of course peak oil was the cause of the financial ‘crisis’ of 2008. CDSes and other financial exotica were only possible because of sustained economic growth, which was only possible through net year-on-year energy gain through increasing oil production. Conventional crude production levelled out in 2005–Murray and King wrote about that in Nature last year. The only reason we’re maintaining a plateau on growth is because of unconventional (energy & capital intensive) oil production. Economic contraction has already started in many countries, and the big oil companies like Shell are beginning to divest from major projects. Fossil fuel civilization is slowly starting to wind down. Don’t look at the most complex aspect (financial markets) as being anything more than epiphenomenal in nature–financial markets and speculation don’t cause things to happen, they are effects of things happening underneath them to prop them up. The real causative effect for anything in our civilization is energy–that’s the only variable worth watching.

  9. kowalityjesus | Mar 17, 2014 at 8:04 pm |

    trudat, rare earths have ecological blood on their hands, and they are the current go-to for photovoltaic technology. It’s a nice alternative for a consumer as ANYTHING besides large-scale coal plants, though.

    I have found that energy news is so consistently chock-full of empty promises, I lost hope from following the developments.

  10. Rhoid Rager | Mar 17, 2014 at 9:18 pm |

    People falling off of roofs? You’re kidding, right? The toxicological effects of Uranium-based fission electricity generation are incalculable. The byproduct (waste) is a problem we are sloughing off on to hundreds of generations into the future, the design, construction and upkeep of generating plants consumes more energy than is produced (the nuclear industry is subsidized by the one-time energy source of fossil fuels–consider the industry as the whiz kid working in the parents garage as the house is beginning to be foreclosed upon). And, the toxic effects from ambient radiation that accumulates in living things cannot be quantified, much like the carcinogenic effects that result from a world awash with petrochemicals. You are deluding yourself.

  11. Jonas Planck | Mar 18, 2014 at 12:05 am |

    Well, that’s disappointingly mundane. I was hoping you were going to describe a giant magnifying glass that was burning people alive like ants.

  12. Jonas Planck | Mar 18, 2014 at 12:35 am |

    Digressing to fiction for a moment… I find myself wondering if Gene Roddenberry’s socialist moneyless utopia called Star Fleet was a product of his personal ideology, or the logical speculative result of having cheap, efficient matter replicator technology that would effectively put everyone except the people who make the replicators out of business. I suppose we’ll find out soon enough.
    Incidentally, in the future I come from, teleportation and matter replication are possible, but the power demands are so steep that it’s only used when absolutely necessary or when you have a LOT of money to spend on it… of course, there is a school of conspiratorial thought that says this is a lie, a trick to preserve forced scarcity and prevent capitalism’s demise, but I have no idea whether or not this is true. All I remember is that school field trip to the tech museum where they demonstrated the teleporter by sending a mouse through, and it came out the other side perfectly intact, but stone dead. They said it was to explain why people can’t teleport, but I think they did it just to condition the kids to hate the technology. I hadn’t really thought about it until just now… I think maybe the conspiracy nuts were right…Forced scarcity is the lifeblood of business.

  13. Rhoid Rager | Mar 18, 2014 at 4:29 pm |

    Civilization is too far gone to make an infrastructural switch. Shoe-horning Thorium-based reactor technology in place of existing uranium-based plants is not only credit-intensive (in an era where most existing credit is being diverted to maintain financial solvency of banks, large corporations and governments), but, more importantly, oil-energy intensive. It’s not a workable solution to the impending energy crisis of civilization, because it is not scalable. There’s nothing that can be done to divert civilization from the course its on. Batten down.

  14. Simon Valentine | Mar 18, 2014 at 6:20 pm |

    uh i meant like “where is a functioning one located” … i’ll google a bit then

  15. Rhoid Rager | Mar 18, 2014 at 9:20 pm |

    It was. It happened in 2005. We’re on the downward slope now.

  16. Simon Valentine | Mar 19, 2014 at 9:57 am |

    alright so none are built yet for the downpayment and maintenance (approximately)? seems like it’d be worth it to build at least one. complainer’s gonna complain, haters gonna hate, paperclippers gonna paperclip etc

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