≡ Menu

Singularity 1 on 1: Jeremy Rifkin on the Zero Marginal Cost Society and the Decline of Capitalism

Jeremy RifkinJeremy Rifkin is a social activist, economist, futurist and best-selling author of twenty books on the impact of scientific and technological changes on the economy, the workforce, society, and the environment. His books have been translated into more than thirty five languages and are being used in hundreds of universities, corporations and government agencies around the world.

In 2011, Jeremy Rifkin published the New York Times bestseller The Third Industrial Revolution, which captured the attention of the world. Mr. Rifkin’s vision of a sustainable, post carbon economic era has been endorsed by the European Union and the United Nations and embraced by world leaders including Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, President François Hollande of France, and Premier Li Keqiang of China. His latest one – The Zero Marginal Cost Society, 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.

During our 97 min conversation with Jeremy Rifkin we cover a variety of interesting topics such as: near zero marginal cost as the deeply embedded paradox in the heart of capitalism; the dematerialization (i.e. the digitalization) of material objects; The Third Industrial Revolution and the decline of capitalism; how US and Canada are becoming outliers while Germany and China are emerging as the new leaders; Dutch Disease and the risk of being a one-trick-pony-type of an economy; decentralization of power and bitcoin; Rifkin’s biggest dream and greatest fear; AI and technological unemployment; empathy and the Turing Test

(You can listen to/download the audio file above or watch the video interview in full. If you want to help me produce more episodes like this one please make a donation!)


Who is Jeremy Rifkin?

Jeremy Rifkin PortraitJeremy Rifkin is the bestselling author of twenty books on the impact of scientific and technological changes on the economy, the workforce, society, and the environment. His books have been translated into more than thirty five languages and are used in hundreds of universities, corporations and government agencies around the world.

On April 1st, 2014 Mr. Rifkin’s published his latest book, The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism. In 2011, Jeremy Rifkin published the New York Times bestseller The Third Industrial Revolution, which captured the attention of the world. Mr. Rifkin’s vision of a sustainable, post carbon economic era has been endorsed by the European Union and the United Nations and embraced by world leaders including Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, President François Hollande of France, and Premier Li Keqiang of China. Mr. Rifkin’s other recent titles include, The Empathic CivilizationThe Age of AccessThe End of WorkThe European DreamThe Biotech Century, and The Hydrogen Economy.

Jeremy Rifkin has been an advisor to the European Union for the past decade. Mr. Rifkin also served as an adviser to President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Prime Minister Jose Socrates of Portugal, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero of Spain, and Prime Minister Janez Janša of Slovenia, during their respective European Council Presidencies, on issues related to the economy, climate change, and energy security. He currently advises the European Commission, the European Parliament, and several EU and Asian heads of state.

Mr. Rifkin is the principle architect of the European Union’s Third Industrial Revolution long-term economic sustainability plan to address the triple challenge of the global economic crisis, energy security, and climate change. The Third Industrial Revolution was formally endorsed by the European Parliament in 2007 and is now being implemented by various agencies within the European Commission as well as in the 27 member-states.

Jeremy Rifkin is the President of the TIR Consulting Group LLC, comprised of many of the leading renewable energy companies, electricity transmission companies, construction companies, architectural firms, IT and electronics companies, and transport and logistics companies. His global economic development team is working with cities, regions, and national governments to develop the Internet of Things (IoT) infrastructure for a Collaborative Commons and a Third Industrial Revolution.

Mr. Rifkin is a senior lecturer at the Wharton School’s Executive Education Program at the University of Pennsylvania where he instructs CEOs and senior management on transitioning their business operations into sustainable Third Industrial Revolution economies. From 1995-2010, Mr. Rifkin taught in the Advanced Management Program at Wharton.

Mr. Rifkin’s monthly column on global issues has appeared over the years in many of the world’s leading newspapers and magazines, including The Los Angeles Times in the United States, The Guardian in the U.K., Die Süddeutsche Zeitung and Handelsblatt in Germany, Le Soirand Knack in Belgium, L’Espresso in Italy, El Mundo and El País in Spain, Kathimerini in Greece, Informatíon in Denmark, De Volkskrant in the Netherlands, Hospodárské Noviny in the Czech Republic, Wort in Luxembourg, Clarínin Argentina, and Al-Ittihad in the U.A.E.

Mr. Rifkin holds a degree in economics from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and a degree in international affairs from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Rifkin speaks frequently before government, business, labor and civic forums. He has lectured at hundreds of the world’s leading corporations as well as more than 300 universities in some thirty countries in the past four decades.

Mr. Rifkin is the founder and president of The Foundation on Economic Trends in Bethesda, MD. The Foundation examines the economic, environmental, social and cultural impacts of new technologies introduced into the global economy.

Like this article?

Please help me produce more content:



Please subscribe for free weekly updates:

  • Greg

    Pretty cool. I had planned to order a few books later today and I think I’ll throw his newest book on the list but man is he a talker I kept thinking he was going to forget to breathe.

  • Brad Arnold

    Socrates, sorry but this is purely technological, and will predictably result in clean energy “too cheap to meter.” It is not pathological science, but will be sort of a Black Swan when it emerges onto the market:

    This clean energy technology using nickel and hydrogen will be emerging onto the market this year or next. According to Forbes.com it will energy “too cheap to meter.” It is a silver bullet solution to cutting emissions, because people will switch rapidly to this clean energy technology, not because we dictate to them to cut emissions, but because the technology will save them money big-time. Here is a primer (I have much more material, but this is just an introduction for the sake of space):

    Check out this third-party verification of a LENR reactor that will soon hit the market: http://arxiv.org/abs/1305.3913
    “Given the deliberately conservative choices made in performing the measurement, we can reasonably state that the E-Cat HT is a non-conventional source of energy which lies between conventional chemical sources of energy and nuclear ones.” (i.e. about five orders of magnitude more energy dense than gasoline, and a COP of almost 6).

    This phenomenon (LENR) has been confirmed in hundreds of published scientific papers: http://lenr-canr.org/acrobat/RothwellJtallyofcol.pdf

    “LENR has the demonstrated ability to produce excess amounts of energy, cleanly, without hazardous ionizing radiation, without producing nasty waste.” – Dennis Bushnell, Chief Scientist at NASA Langley Research Center

    “Total replacement of fossil fuels for everything but synthetic organic chemistry.” –Dr. Joseph M. Zawodny, NASA

    By the way, here is a survey of some of the companies that are bringing LENR to commercialization: http://www.cleantechblog.com/blog/2011/08/the-new-breed-of-energy-cataly

    For those who still aren’t convinced, here is a paper I wrote that contains some pretty convincing evidence: http://coldfusionnow.org/the-evidence-for-lenr/

    – See more at: http://www.thomhartmann.com/forum/2013/10/lenr-clean-very-very-cheap-and-super-abundant-energy-technology#sthash.BEMKsLNj.dpuf

    One more thing Socrates, it will make more sense if you read this:


  • Brad Arnold

    BTW, I am a little defensive about this, because it is “too good to be true,” and furthermore, Wikipedia basically calls it pathological science. What a shame, because the Law of Accelerating Returns would be dramatically fueled if our economy could enjoy dramatically cheap and more abundant energy. Frankly, it would solve global warming, because we would have the clean energy to remove the excess carbon from the air and ocean. Hard to believe I know, but the stakes couldn’t be higher. There is nothing like LENR – a fuel density over 10,000 times fossil fuel (which isn’t surprising because fission reaction gives plutonium an even great fuel density – but uranium is relatively rare, whereas hydrogen/nickel are some of the most common elements on Earth).

  • Hillbilly


    I have read papers on both sides of the E-Cat HT, including the Cornell paper. The “PR” problem is, the device is a “trade secret” and hasn’t been truly scrutinized by any third party. Certainly Cornell was given a device to test, but they were not privy to how the device is constructed, or given an opportunity to construct their own to properly test the underlying science behind it, or recreate the device’s functions in a lab. So all they could do is report observations, leaving more questions than answers in the minds of many.

    I want to believe that it really works. But Rossi is going to have to lift the veil a bit on the construction of the unit (with some heavy NDAs in place) to really get the public and scientific community to approve of it. Aside from that, the market is where something like this really makes headway, and I have yet to see one commercial application of the E-Cat HT in all of the years it has been lauded as a miracle. That needs to happen ASAP.

  • Neoliberal Agenda

    Hasn’t the trend been going on for several hundred years, it was just in an other form, not digital. i.e. you had to buy a newspaper to get the latest information or pay a band to listen to music. Radio provided it for free.

  • It is a false assumption that energy is the driver of society and economy. The true dependency is not energy, it is transportation. Nature already proves “zero marginal cost transportation” — the perpetual orbits. This interview is valuable to show that ET3 is on target (in this a new economy context) on many levels. ET3 uses a ‘open consortium’ (distributed collaboration) business model that leverages existing sunk costs to create “near zero marginal cost” transportation by virtually eliminating energy cost, and labor cost of transportation.

  • I am an economist and just published an short article in my blog with very similar ideas.
    If may i cite from it;
    to be observed, we are heading toward a new economic model, in which
    money will be inter-mediated without the traditional financial
    institutions. The very best example is Bitcoin, which still exists, even
    if the banks try to disqualify it as a trustful financial instrument.
    Other example is kickstart which opens a direct channel between the
    entrepreneur and the investor, without need for inter-mediation.
    other important economic phenomena is the growing number of products
    available free of charge, that annihilate whole range of services as
    paid services, and as such doesn’t appear in the GDP statistics. As
    example for such a service i would mention the availability of academic
    level education free of charge on the web. We can speak also about
    films, music at.c. Truth is all this are virtual services, but also
    products from the real material world are already knocking on the door
    to enter the markets. Just try to imagine you have a 3D printer at home,
    and for the evening gala party you want to wear some costume you saw on
    the web. All you will need to do is virtual instruction how to print
    the dress. I am sure the instructions will be available on the web free
    of charge. And here you have a product created just in time….

    A world without institutional money and products without price are a very
    disturbing vision for economists who make their living from marginal
    cost above zero.

    If you are interested you can see on the following links the whole article,

    or https://rodeneugen.wordpress.com/2014/07/05/economy-on-edge-of-paradigm-change/

  • “The invisible hand of the market has worked so efficiently that it’s decreased zero marginal cost to free…”

  • Zero marginal cost will also mean zero marginal employment. So it would need a complete new social system wich also works without work !

  • Tom Sparrow

    great interview overall but one big mistake by the host to misinterpret the venus project or at least the zeitgeist movement. it is NOT supposed to be one big centralized computer. someone needs to tell Jeremy Rifkin what it’s really all about. was hoping he would work together with the movement in some form.

  • Wholewitt

    I see world population as the central problem. A much smaller population would greatly reduce the use of carbon fuels and require less food. Less population would also stop the destruction of rain forest, etc. Of course that won’t happen and we keep getting more of the people the world doesn’t need (think of women wearing black bag dresses). Can you really have billions of people with 3D printers making things to sell instead of working at the jobs they have now? The jobs are going away in large numbers and I don’t see an internet of things replacing a lot of them. Low cost automated production requires fewer people so we need to distribute birth control as foreign aid.

  • Solace

    WOW. This podcast was amazing…. !!!

  • Jacob Top Møller

    Thank you so much for this episode – Very informative!

  • Aske B. Vammen

    Or you Daryl Oster, the founder of ET3? If so, it’s great to see busy minds like you visit the visionary parts of the Internet. Even if just to brand your organization.

  • Sean Ryan

    Disappointing that he promoted the Global Warming Hoax…and I personally find it horrifying that kids are being indoctrinated to practice Eco-Religiion.

    Rifkin really strikes me as a moneyed elitist w/strong ties to the most destructive pyramid-shaped power structure of all: govt.


  • Pingback: The Best of Singularity Weblog in 2014()

  • Pingback: Futurist David Wood on Singularity 1on1: Radical Change Lies Ahead()

  • Pingback: Marshall Brain on Singularity 1on1: We are approaching humanity's make or brake period()

  • Pingback: Salim Ismail on Exponential Organizations()

  • Pingback: Does Evolution lead to Singularity?()

  • Ah I always appreciated Jeremy Rifkin since “the end of work”, but now he is yet another guy who jumps on this cheap tawdry “optimism” bandwagon for cheap bucks.

  • Pingback: Will technological unemployment impoverish us?()

  • Mike Cautillo

    Brilliant….great visionary!!

  • Pingback: Angel Investor Matthew Le Merle on How to “Build Your Fortune in the Fifth Era”()

  • Pingback: Is the current economic growth model limited by the speed of light?()

  • Pingback: Nick Gogerty on SolarCoin: Think Networks and Adaptation()

Over 3,000 super smart people have subscribed to my newsletter: