Jeremy Rifkin on the New Economic Narrative
This is a book excerpt from 'The Third Industrial Revolution' by Jeremy Rifkin
Images courtesy of the Office of Jeremy Rifkin
Jeremy Rifkin is an American economic and social theorist, writer, public speaker, political advisor, and activist. He's also been an advisor to the European Union since 2000 on issues relating to economics, energy and climate change. In this excerpt from his international bestselling book entitled 'The Third Industrial Revolution' (2011), he legitimises the possibility of shifting our global community towards a sustainable post-carbon era.
The most difficult task in the transformation from the second to a third industrial revolution is conceptual rather than technical in nature. The movers and shakers of the second industrial revolution quickly came to understand, at least intuitively, that a new communication medium and energy regime created a single indivisible economic paradigm. One could not develop without a relationship with the other. They also realized that the new infrastructure being created by this convergence would fundamentally reconfigure the temporal and spatial orientation of society, requiring new ways to organize and manage commercial activities and living patterns.
It didn’t take long for the emerging oil companies, auto companies, telephone companies, power and utility companies, and construction and real estate companies of the second industrial revolution to figure out that each of their pursuits reinforced the commercial opportunities of the others, and that they would never create the economies of speed and scale that would allow them to optimize their full commercial potential by going it alone. Processing oil, manufacturing automobiles, laying down roads, installing telephone lines and electrical utilities, building suburban communities and institutionalizing modern business practices are not separate commercial entities, but components of a single enterprise — a second industrial revolution.
The entrepreneurs understood this from the very beginning and pooled their mutual interests, creating a powerful lobbying force both in the United States and Europe and, later, in the rest of the world, to advance their common cause. While that lobbying force was often predatory and unsavory, consumed by self-interest and unconcerned with the public welfare, it did perform a public service that too often goes unrecognized. The lobbyists connected the dots.
Today, we are witnessing the convergence of a new communications media and energy regime — a third industrial revolution. Businesses across widely divergent fields—clean energies, green construction, telecommunications, micro-generation, distributed grid IT, plug-in electric and fuel cell transport, sustainable chemistry, nanotechnology, zero-carbon logistics and supply-chain management, and so on—are developing an array of new technologies, products, and services.
Until recently, these new commercial opportunities have attracted only modest interest in the investment community and with the public at large. That’s because we human beings live by stories, and stories are always about the relationships and interactions between characters. Just as individual words don’t tell a tale, individual technologies, product lines, and services don’t make a new economic narrative. It’s when we discover how they all relate to each other and create a new economic conversation that heads start to turn. That’s now beginning to happen as the third industrial revolution visionaries coauthor the opening chapters of a new story for the global economy.
The emerging third industrial revolution is not only changing the way we do business, but also the way we think about politics. The struggle between the older hierarchical power interests of the second industrial revolution and the nascent lateral power interests of the third industrial revolution is giving rise to a new political dichotomy, reflective of the competing forces vying for dominance in the commercial arena. A new political script is being written, recasting the very way people will view politics as we move deeper into the new era.
"Today, we are witnessing the convergence of a new communications media and energy regime — a third industrial revolution."