Glen T. Martin
Jeremy Rifkin’s books have long been a major source of creative and deeply informed paradigm-shift thought, and The Zero Marginal Cost Society is no different. The book chronicles the vast transformations called the “Third Industrial Revolution” (which is also the title of one of his earlier books). It describes the immense import of the Third Industrial Revolution for a liberated human future on Earth of abundance, fulfillment, justice, and sustainability. In this 435 page book, there is a wealth of valuable information documenting, elaborating, and historically grounding his arguments that cannot be adequately summarized in a review such as this.
In Part One I will summarize Rifkin’s central ideas and arguments while necessarily omitting much of the wealth of background information. People should read the whole of this book, and his other books, for themselves. In Part Two I will offer a critical review of these ideas and arguments and try to show that Rifkin has not adequately conceptualized the fundamental features of the paradigm-shift that he is brilliantly attempting to explicate. I will show that the Constitution for the Federation of Earth much more clearly envisions the necessary paradigm-shift to a resilient, cooperative, and sustainable planetary society. In Part Three, I will discuss Rifkin’s 2019 book called The Green New Deal in relation to the Green New Deal (GND) that our world must soon accomplish and again compare his thought with the paradigm-shift offered by Earth Constitution.
Part One: Rifkin’s Thesis
Rifkin’s first chapter in The Zero Marginal Cost Society is titled “The Great Paradigm-Shift from Market Capitalism to Collaborative Commons.” In economics, a marginal cost is defined as the cost added by producing one additional unit of a product or service. The vaunted “efficiency” of capitalism was always that competition would lead companies to continually introduce new technologies and ever-leaner forms of production that lowered the cost of the goods and services provided. With automation and mechanized assembly lines, for example, automobiles or anything else could be reproduced at an ever-lower marginal cost. However, the Third Industrial Revolution, which has engendered the digital, robotic, computerized “collaborative commons,” is lowering the marginal cost of goods and services in many domains to nearly zero.
The fact that computerized machines will bring the marginal cost of goods and services to nearly zero means, Rifkin says, that “the ultimate triumph of capitalism also marks its inescapable passage from the world stage” (p. 11). The digital revolution, the “third industrial revolution,” changes everything. Part One of his book is about “the untold history of capitalism.” Rifkin goes into the details of the rise of capitalism and the dynamics of the first, second, and third industrial revolutions.
The first industrial revolution involved the invention of the steam engine, the use of coal for fuel, and the use of the telegraph for communications. Rifkin says this transformed the world within a 30-year period from 1860-1890. The second industrial revolution involved the invention of the internal combustion engine, the use of gasoline and oil for fuel, and the telephone for communications, again transforming the world in the 25-year period between 1908 and 1933. Both these eras gave rise to huge “vertically integrated” systems, run in top-down form by managers and boards of directors distributing energy, as well as goods and services, through vast centralized industrial systems.
However, the third industrial revolution, now going on, has given us locally generated green energy, low-cost and locally empowered green transport systems, as well as the collaborative communications commons of the worldwide web. It has the potential to transform the world from vertically integrated centralized fossil fuel systems to laterally networked, locally powered and empowered sustainability systems within the next 20 years (2019, pp. 243-344). With our geometrically expanding capacity to do 3D printing, the capitalist “consumer” is now becoming a “prosumer” who can produce or collaboratively share goods and services for herself or the local community.
We are rapidly moving to a world in which the “technological unemployment” generated by machines replacing people in both goods and services is finding entrepreneurial responses in people working in cooperative ways to mutually empower everyone with more and more virtually free goods and services. This new system operates outside of the traditional parameters for employment in which workers labored as employees of vertically integrated industrial systems.
The third industrial revolution, making traditional capitalism obsolete, requires a corresponding paradigm-shift in our thinking. Rifkin details at least two ways that classical capitalism failed to comprehend the reality of our situation. First, “in classical and neoclassical economic theory, the dynamics that govern the Earth’s biosphere are mere externalities to economic activity” (p. 12). The law of entropy necessitates that all production and uses of energy necessarily transforms these things into useless heat and waste. For example, the burning of fossil fuels releases CO2 into the atmosphere. Today, “the entropic bill for the Industrial Age has arrived” in the form of “wholesale destruction of the Earth’s biosphere” (2013, p. 13).
Second, capitalism, Rifkin argues, framed both the natural world and human nature in its own image “suggesting that its workings are a reflection of the way nature itself is organized” (ibid., p. 70). Rifkin spends all of Chapter Four outlining the history of such practices of framing nature within our human self-image. Today, he says, human beings are no longer framed as autonomous, competitive self-seeking creatures as classical capitalism supposed. The third industrial revolution, the emerging science of ecology, and the growing collaborative commons are “accompanied by a sweeping rethink of human nature that is fundamentally altering the way we perceive our relationship to the Earth” (p. 80).
The new view of human nature contends that we are intensely social creatures capable of shared, empathic consciousness and capable even of what he calls “biospheric consciousness.” Rifken has already written a 2009 (678 page) book titled The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World of Crisis. At the end of this book he asks: “Can we reach biosphere consciousness and global empathy in time to avert planetary disaster?” (p. 616).
This Zero Marginal Cost Society chronicles the many collaborative and cooperative features of the third industrial revolution that call out for a shared plenitude of knowledge, experience, and mutual service rather than private profit deriving from scarcity of knowledge, experience, and services. In Part Two of the book, he describes how “extreme productivity” is both possible and happening now, at near zero marginal cost. These developments point to a future world of abundance, solidarity, empathy, and freedom.
Part Three of the book presents a historical overview of “the rise of the collaborative commons,” going back to the transition of medieval to modern economic relationships. He addresses the issue of the “tragedy of the commons,” a well-known issue in economics deriving from Garrett Hardin’s 1968 essay arguing that unrestricted use of a commons always led to its overuse and destruction. Rifkin cites the growing research and literature showing that throughout history people can and have cooperated successfully in their uses of a commons. Part Four describes the many contemporary movements regarding “social capital and the sharing economy.” People are rapidly moving away from an ethos in which they define themselves in terms of their possessions and toward an ethos in which they define themselves in terms of their relationships, and their belonging to larger, meaningful wholes.
Part Five of the book is called “the economy of abundance.” Capitalism’s dynamics “feeds off scarcity.” But when the marginal cost of production approaches zero (through 3D printing, shared knowledge on the Internet, and many forms of collaborative action) then the abundance produced means that “profits disappear because goods and services have been liberated from market pricing.” The products and services still have use and value, “but no longer have exchange value” (p. 333). People can get most of what they need without having to pay for it.
Rifkin refers to Mahatma Gandhi’s intuitive understanding of sustainability. Local communities become self-sufficient and their citizens empowered through cooperative endeavors to produce enough “for every man’s need but not for every man’s greed” (p. 334). Universally locally generated green power from sun and wind will be networked across the globe providing everyone on Earth with the means for sustainable living, assuming that this process and our conscious effort also serve to limit the population explosion. He asks, “how many human beings can live comfortably without destroying the biosphere’s ability to continually replenish the necessary ecological resources?” Depending on how we calculate this, it may be anywhere from 2.5 to 10 billion people (p. 335-36).
He cites many studies that happiness comes through relationships, quality of life, and meaningful existence, not through wealth or private property. The “materialism” of modern capitalism and culture is replaced with empathic relationships and the quest for sociability and community. He details how access to electricity alone has been shown to lower the number of children in families within developing countries. If we can bring the fertility rate for the Earth to 2.1 children and eventually level the population off at 5 billion, he affirms, we will secure a decent future for humanity (p. 349).
Rifkin reviews the now familiar consequences of climate change that are happening worldwide: shrinking food availability, superstorms, high-intensity water-related events, extreme wind, changes in climate patterns, including droughts, uncontrollable wildfires, loss of biodiversity, etc. It is extremely foolish, he says, to think we can deal with these things in a patchwork way under a carbon-based regime (p. 355). The need to make this paradigm-shift (that must include a shift in consciousness coordinate with a shift in fundamental economic and social relations) puts us in a race against time.
In my own books and articles concerning the need for a fundamental shift in consciousness and paradigm, I speak of the transformations of human consciousness throughout history and the current mutations of conscious taking place during our contemporary “second axial period” (Martin 2008, 2010, 2018). Rifkin presents a similar progressive series of transformations but under different names. His progression moves from primitive mythological to theological to ideological to psychological to advanced biospheric consciousness. Roughly speaking, what I call “holistic evolutionary consciousness,” or what Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry call “ecozoic consciousness” (1992), he calls “biosphere consciousness.”
We are in transition now, he argues, between psychological consciousness (with its great capacity for empathy with people and other creatures) to biospheric consciousness in which we understand how to live in harmony with the biosphere of the Earth that sustains us. He concludes this book by stating that “the transition from the capitalist era to the Collaborate Age is gaining momentum in every region in the world—hopefully, in time to heal the biosphere and create a more just, humane, and sustainability global economy for every human being on Earth in the first half of the twenty-first century” (p. 380).
Part Two: Critique
Jeremy Rifkin largely omits discussion of the world of militarized sovereign nation-states with absolute borders and recognizing no effective laws above themselves. His book about the coming zero marginal cost of production leaves out this entire dimension of life on planet Earth. He omits the largest profit-making industry on Earth—the production and sale of weapons worldwide by the US, Russia, and other industrialized nations—the nations of Earth spending some 1.8 trillion dollars per year on militarism, weapons, and war. Is the production of these weapons also approaching zero marginal cost so as to become virtually free?
What about the economic rivalry of nations? National sovereignty (a fundamental paradigm-assumption that he never mentions) engenders the perceived need for governments to use tariffs, trade relations, sanctions, military power, profits from investments in development from rich to poor nations, and similar relationships designed to benefit the nation at the expense of the poor or those wanting ever-more weapons. Capitalism (defined as economic exchange with the goal of accumulating private profit) may be disappearing into an “Internet of Things” within some industrialized nations but perhaps it has now transferred to the rivalry between nations, which the system of absolute sovereignty makes inevitable.
The “World Systems” paradigm articulated by social scientists such as Christopher Chase-Dunn (1998), documents the institutionalization of these economic-military relationships within a center/semi-periphery/periphery world structure. Rifkin’s “history of capitalism” leaves out the role of capitalism in slavery, colonialism, neo-colonialism, global structures of nation-state led exploitation, and endless wars. He does appear to recognize that the needed paradigm-shift to empathic and biosphere consciousness must go much deeper than the ways that he describes.
Perhaps Rifkin as a successful author, scholar, and head of TIR Consulting Group, LLC, accepts without serious questioning the privileges that stem from living in the center of the current global empire. His books are full of examples of him consulting with the super-rich, with heads of state, with the European Commission, etc. Despite his vast knowledge and global exposure, in this book he never mentions the nearly 800 military bases that the US has worldwide designed to further US economic and military interests (interests which are seen by the US rulers as coextensive). He never mentions the European Union’s complicity in extending NATO to the borders of Russia while demonizing the Russians in a new Cold War, etc.
Perhaps he thinks the increase in empathic consciousness will make governments deploy their cruise missiles, fighter jets, anti-aircraft rockets, battle ships, space-based military forces, or weaponized drones in less lethal ways as they act to destroy the lives and life-support systems of people around the world in their endeavor to grab the resources and markets of the world for their own perceived interests. Perhaps his access to those of wealth and power would be limited if he exposed their corrupt system too explicitly.
In his earlier book about “empathic civilization,” mentioned above, Rifkin does chronicle the emergence of the modern nation state system (pp. 292-300). He speaks about the collective national consciousness engendered by this system that has the positive feature of uniting whole peoples in ways that allow for greater national empathy among the nation’s citizens. He does say that now we need to go beyond national consciousness to planetary consciousness, but he appears to assume that the latter development is compatible with retaining absolute sovereign-state borders. He misses the dialectical relationship between institutions and consciousness at the global level, beyond national borders. These absolute borders inhibit and defeat the needed rapid growth of planetary “biospheric” consciousness.
He does not, therefore, apply this same reasoning to the Earth as a whole, in the sense that uniting the Earth as one political whole would engender this same process of planetary mutual identification and empathic expansion. Instead, he returns immediately to his description of the development of “psychological consciousness” leading, he argues, toward empathy and a new understanding of what it means to be human (apparently regardless of the militarized nation-state system). In his concluding remarks to that book, he does bring up “geopolitics” once again, stating:
Geopolitics has always been based on the assumption that the environment is a giant battleground—a war of all against all—where we fight with one another to secure resources to ensure our individual survival. Biosphere politics, by contrast, is based on the idea that the Earth is a living organism made up of interdependent relationships and that we each survive by stewarding the larger communities of which we are part. The new bottom-up continentalization and globalization allow us to complete the task of connecting the human race and opens up the possibility of extending the empathic sensibility to our species as a whole, as well as to the many other species that make up the life of the planet (2009, p. 615).
Very good. Except that Rifkin omits the insight that this “giant battleground” is institutionalized in the system of militarized sovereign nation-states, and that such institutions inevitably condition human consciousness. To change the consciousness, we must also change these flawed and fragmented institutions. Not only that, but the lawless character of the system of sovereign nation-states gives law itself a bad name and encourages the colonization of all governments by rulers who manipulate the law in the self-interests of themselves and their nations.
If we are to “complete the task of connecting the human race,” as he puts it, then we must be truly connected, which means both politically and economically. We must create a system of law in the world that is transparent, accountable, integrated, and holistic, just as the planetary biosphere is holistic. The so-called “bottom-up” and top-down must meet in holistic reciprocity. This is precisely the role of the Constitution for the Federation of Earth (www.earth-constitution.org) that appears to find no place in Rifkin’s thoughts or writings.
I believe this significant omission is due to a flawed analysis that is found as well in The Zero Marginal Cost Society and elsewhere. Rifkin defines and describes three sectors: government, the commons, and the regime of private property and private enterprise. His analysis makes it appear as if we can emphasize the growing commons and deemphasize the private property and enterprise sector and that government will simply adjust accordingly, or perhaps even get out of the way of the Collaborative Commons. In this book, it is as if these were three semi-autonomous dimensions (we will see below that he changes his analysis in his last book, The Green New Deal, 2019).
However, his analysis does not clearly show the way human affairs can or should work. Government is necessary to define both the commons and the scope and patterns of private property and enterprise. And, if human beings are ever to unite in an empathic civilization, then the absolute “sovereign” borders must come down and be replaced by the rule of democratically legislated planetary law, leaving the borders as mere administrative units for the purpose of local governance. Sovereign borders influence people to think in “us versus them terms,” and in terms of “our interests versus their interests.” They block global empathic realization. Today’s world is a cauldron of hot wars, cyber wars, culture wars, and economic wars. Rifkin largely ignores this institutionalized war-system.
His own analyses presuppose the primacy of law (again we will see below that he makes this explicit in The Green New Deal). In The Zero Marginal Cost Society, he speaks of the legal battles over the internet between those who would privatize it for profit and those who advocate the collaborative commons. It is government and law that will secure and define the results of these battles. It is the law that can and should give us open-source knowledge and define its limits. The publisher’s page on Rifkin’s own book declares “All rights reserved,” demonstrating that it is OK for the law to protect some things from being open source.
He speaks of civil society in the twentieth century becoming “institutionalized in the form of tax-exempt organizations,” again presupposing that “civil society,” with its collaborative rights and duties, is defined by government and law. He speaks of the development of all sorts of collaborative projects, from Airbnb to Couchsurfing to HomeAway to Rent That Toy! to Tie Society to The Freecycle Network, however, not pointing out that all of these are made possible and governed by law.
As collaborative, cooperative, and empathic as we might become, we cannot live without government and democratic laws. There is no reason why law cannot be empathically and equitably legislated. There is no reason why law must be the instrument of some ruling class once capitalism has seen its demise. There is no reason why law cannot be global and finally bring the world into truly just and civilized relationships governed by law.
Philosopher of law H.L.A. Hart points out in The Concept of Law that the law does not only limit our behavior through sanctions. It also empowers us in innumerable ways. Laws are there in the background of all that we do, empowering us to marry and raise family, to get an education, to form binding contracts and agreements, to have our rights and dignity protected, to have safe food and transportation, to exchange goods and services, to have healthcare, fire, and police protection, to have a protected clean environment, to freely speak or publish, to collaborate with others for social change, to practice the religion of our choice, to gather information and keep it open-source, etc. But the multiplicity of laws of some 193 sovereign nations create a global chaos of conflicting legal regimes engendering endless smuggling, trafficking, tariffs, blockades, trade wars, immigration and migration problems, visa requirements, surveillance, spying, militarism, distrust, conflict, and violence.
Do we need all human beings, whether they are male or female, stronger or weaker, more clever or less clever, to be equal to one another before the law? Or can we live without law and hope that the stronger will be empathic enough not to rape or pillage? If some ideal sustainable community or nation is created somewhere in the world, who or what is to stop others from invading or stealing their resources? Perhaps they should be supplied with weapons to defend themselves? In fact, such national “self-defense” is exactly what Rifkin assumes. But then there goes this community’s supposed empathy for all other humans and animals.
Who or what gives nations or communities the right to live in peace, free from possible interference by others? Only enforceable democratic laws can do this. Rifkin defines correctly the difference between negative and positive freedom, but he fails to point out that positive freedom is enhanced and empowered by good laws, and ultimately by a global legal framework. The culture of trusting others that he emphasizes (e.g., p. 343) is enhanced and empowered by good laws, often invisible in the background of our relationships but influencing our ability to trust others nevertheless. The system of militarized, sovereign nation-states destroys, in significant measure, these beneficial functions of good law. This is because it is a lawless system, presupposing that there can be no enforceable laws over the nations. So-called international laws are merely treaties of sovereign nations that the powerful nations break with impunity.
First, it is important to see that law cannot rule legitimately over nation-states as autonomous entities, but must be over all individual persons. This was initially admitted and stated in the Nuremberg Convention of 1950, but the UN has failed to move forward on individual accountability to the law, since its charter remains an agreement between sovereign nations that exempts individual persons from its clauses. Rikin states that “the Second Industrial Revolution infrastructure gave rise to global markets and international organizations like the United Nations, the World Bank, the OECD, and the World Trade Organization to comanage governance alongside nation-states” (2019, p. 231).
Not only is this dual system of extra-national shadow governance-structures undemocratic and elitist in the extreme. There is also a wealth of critical social-scientific literature showing that the World Bank and WTO are institutionalizations of a system of global pillage and exploitation and that the United Nations is there to defend the absolute sovereignty of militarized nations and the domination of the five victor nations from the Second World War (see, e.g., Brecher/Costello 1994; Chomsky 2003). These systems are symptoms of a 350-year old, nation-state paradigm that is ripping our world apart. You cannot have a successful paradigm-shift to sustainability while retaining this chaotic, undemocratic governance of our planet.
The heads of many of today’s nations are war criminals and should be in jail. Yet they are exempt under today’s sovereign nation-state system. Good law holds all individuals equally accountable. Second, law must equitably empower and protect all human beings. Only democratic world law can do this. Today’s chaos of localized, often undemocratic, law-systems the world over, with their sovereign militarized borders and planetary human rights violations, only breeds cynicism and skepticism regarding what is needed most—the rule of equitable law for all people framed in ways to encourage cooperation, empathy, collaboration, freedom, synergy, and sustainability (see Fuller 1981; Martin 2018).
By misunderstanding the nature and role of democratic law in human affairs, and by ignoring the gigantic global war-system and its industrial-military complex, Rifkin appears to hope he can influence the rich and powerful to adopt a Green New Deal. In doing so, he ignores the Earth Constitution as a necessary framework for demilitarizing the nations, establishing global economic equity, and protecting our planetary environment. Rifkin presents a flawed picture of the way out of the disastrous future toward which we are plunging. As right as he appears to be about the wonderful possibilities of the Collaborative Commons and empathic planetary civilization, these things cannot and will not happen without simultaneously ratifying the Constitution for the Federation of Earth.
Part Three: A Green New Deal for the USA or the Earth?
Rifkin believes in democracy and empowering the workers, but his analysis of capitalism here ignores that it is predicated on exploitation—exploitation either of the workers, or of other countries, or of nature, or all three together. In The Zero Marginal Cost Society, he describes the inevitable demise of capitalism with the development of means of sustainable livelihoods worldwide that are practically self-sufficient and that can produce for their own needs at near zero marginal costs. And he does recognize that “in classical and neoclassical economic theory, the dynamics that govern the Earth’s biosphere are mere externalities to economic activity” (p. 12).
In The Green New Deal (2019), Rifkin brings capitalism very much back into the picture and into our future by arguing for investment (for private profit) in the green revolution and in order to avoid the “stranded assets” that will result from abandonment of the fossil fuel economy. He describes an impressive range of companies and enterprises that are responding to the fast-rising green economy. He now appears to ignore his earlier analysis projecting the demise of capitalism and instead discovers a new hybrid that he calls “The New Social Capitalism” (p. 166). Apparently, it is now possible to seek private profit without seeing the biosphere as “a mere externality to economic activity.”
In this book, he no longer claims that “the ultimate triumph of capitalism also marks its inescapable passage from the world stage.” The older fossil fuel capitalism of the Second Industrial Revolution with its implicit slogan “buyer beware,” he declares, has changed with the Third Industrial Revolution to a new slogan: “doing well by doing good” (pp. 167, 205). Indeed, companies around the world (with support from some governments) are converting to become ESCOs (Environmental Service Companies), “a pragmatic business model that can speed the transition into a near-zero emission era in the short time horizon before us” (p. 205).
He entirely ignores the deleterious role of global private banking in the planetary economic system, a role that has condemned successive generations of several billion poor people in developing nations to perpetual poverty through forcing their governments to pay back international debts to the profit-making banks that loaned them billions for falsely framed “development” projects. These poor nations were then coerced into “austerity” measures in order to ensure payback from the poor to the rich. He similarly ignores the fact that the European Union (which he so admires for its progress toward a green infrastructure) recently condemned one of its own member nations (Greece) to serious poverty and perdition in order to force the pay-back of billions in loans to the gigantic banks of the world, a move that was supported, even advocated, by Germany (which otherwise is a leader in the conversion to a green economy). Germany is apparently willing to cut the green economic development of Greece off at the knees in order to secure the flourishing of its own green prosperity.
He ignores the fact that most of the world’s money is created as debt to these private banking cartels, a system that creates top-down domination, perpetual exploitation, and continuing corruption everywhere on Earth (see Brown 2007). It is difficult to see how human beings could affect a revolution to empathic consciousness and planetary solidarity with such economic systems in place. Just as the nation-state system divides people and defeats empathic and biospheric consciousness, so does the global monetary system. On the other hand, both of these systems are holistically and synergistically transformed by the Earth Constitution.
Just as capitalism is resurrected in The Green New Deal as “social capitalism,” so the role of government is no longer minimized. He describes impressive support for the Green Revolution from the government of China, as well as from the European Union and the government of Germany. These, plus the United States, he says, form the “three elephants” in the room whose leadership is the key to a global green revolution (pp. 215 ff). The last of the three, of course, remains is a rogue elephant, but Rifkin hopes that the new USA President taking office in 2021 will bring a complete commitment at the federal, state, and local levels to a Green New Deal with the focus and urgency of the war-footing adopted by the US during the Second World War (pp. 230-31).
The real “elephant in the room” is very much the system of militarized sovereign nation-states, which Rifkin ignores. He declares that we need “binding legal standards” to ensure universal conformance to serious non-carbon markets. Nearly every one of his 23 points outlining what is necessary for a USA Green New Deal places federal, state, and local governments into the equation (pp. 223-30). He describes this process in Germany (and the EU) as well as in China and many local initiatives within the USA.
These three “elephants” may indeed be crucial to conversion (and he recognizes that the USA remains far from being on board with any GND). However, as we have seen, even if these large beasts manage to establish binding standards for their societies, they remain lawless in the refusal to recognize any effective laws over themselves. Under the militarized sovereign state system, there can be no “binding legal standards” for the world, and, as stated above, this very lawlessness (with its obvious manifestations in global military and economic chaos) breeds skepticism everywhere concerning the need for the rule of law.
With the complicity of the EU, China, and the UN (by all remaining silent), the U.S., through remote controlled drones or CIA assassination teams, lawlessly executes any and all persons around the world whom it designates (according to secret criteria) as its enemies. By ignoring these horrific realities, Rifkin misses the real elephant (the lawless system of sovereign states). In order to promote a hope for success that rings hollow as soon as one opens the morning newspaper, he paints a rosy picture of all the work being done by profit-making companies that are doing very well by supposedly doing good.
“Social capitalism,” however, is really nothing new since critical thinkers have been taking about “market socialism” or “cooperative capitalism” for decades (e.g., Harrington 1972, Smith 2013). “Socialism” fundamentally means that law regulates markets in such a way that they serve the common good rather than the unlimited accumulation of private wealth (Martin 2018). That is what Rifkin’s social capitalism reportedly does.
However, Rifkin (who interacts with the very rich and powerful in his consulting role) never claims in this book that “social capitalism” should limit the amount of “doing well” they can accumulate in the process of “doing good.” Nevertheless, there is a vast literature showing that excessive accumulations of wealth distort democracy, empathic consciousness, and civilizational well-being. Recently economist Thomas Piketty concluded that “capitalism automatically generates arbitrary and unsustainable inequalities that radically undermine the meritocratic values on which democratic societies are based” (Piketty 2014, p. 1; see also Parenti 1995; Chomsky 1996). All Rifkin recommends here is a graduated income tax to be used by government to promote the transition required by the Green New Deal.
Recently economist Kate Raworth underlined a fundamental truth—success in overcoming our planetary crisis will come from the way we design our systems: “Economics, it turns out, is not a matter of discovering laws. It is essentially a question of design. And…the last two hundred years of industrial activity have been based upon a linear industrial system whose design is inherently degenerative…. From a systems-thinking perspective….far greater leverage comes from changing the paradigm that gives rise to the system’s goals” (2017, pp. 180 & 182). Doing good by doing well, helpful as it may be in the short run, does not fundamentally change the system
The Constitution for the Federation of Earth is designed to address the multiple crises of our linear world system—both our economics and our politics with their the war system, global poverty system, and unsustainability system. It integrates all of these factors into a holistic planetary design so that the system’s goals become entirely different—those of a peace system, a prosperity system, and a sustainability system.
Virtually every one of the 23 actions and policies recommended in this book for a USA Green New Deal is already there in the Constitution for the Federation of Earth and the World Legislation enacted to date by the Provisional World Parliament. The Constitution makes democratically legislated world laws binding over every person on Earth, and it promotes local empowerment through a federal system ascending from local to state to national to global levels. The Constitution provides worldwide agencies for monitoring the health of the planet and for deploying and empowering the Third Industrial Revolution technology equitably around the planet to ensure real sustainability.
In Article 8, the Constitution also establishes global public banking and debt-free money creation. This means that the global inequality (and concomitant undemocratic political power) fostered today by global private banking, money creation, and profit-making corporations can be addressed rapidly, effectively, and justly by the Earth Federation Government. It means that local sustainability initiatives everywhere in the poor countries of the developing world will have ample funding to activate the third industrial revolution. It means the rapid elimination of extreme poverty globally while preserving the well-being of today’s first world nations.
The Earth Constitution also deals with the population crisis in noncoercive ways and, most fundamentally, it sees our planet Earth as a global commons, belonging to all the people who live on Earth, who possess the collective authority to protect and restore it. It is not, as under the UN system, that oil somehow “belongs” to Saudi Arabia, the lungs of the Earth somehow “belong” to Brazil, giant natural gas reserves somehow “belong” to Russia, and the right to exit itself from the Paris Climate Accords somehow “belongs” to the United States (as well as any other nation). This paradigm, assuming that each nation somehow “owns” is resources, results in what I have called “The Tragedy of Our Planetary Commons.” It structurally prevents a planetary biosphere consciousness from developing (Martin 2019).
In his early book, Entropy: Into the Greenhouse World, Rifkin seems to agree with a radical rethinking of the paradigm of private property:
In a low-entropy culture the concept of private property is retained for consumer goods and services and family real estate but not for large tracts of land and other renewable and nonrenewable resources. The long-accepted practice of private exploitation of “natural” property is replaced with the notion of public guardianship. The orthodox economic view that each person’s individual self-interest when added together with the self-interest of everyone else always serves the common good of the community is regarded with suspicion or, more appropriately, with outright derision. (1989, p. 245)
Nevertheless it appears that, by the time of The Green New Deal book (2019), he has not yet managed to apply this principle to the bizarre conceit that sovereign nation-states “own” their internal resources. Yet the same principle exactly applies, because the atmosphere of the Earth, the oceans of the Earth, and the climatic balances of the Earth belong to the people of Earth, not to sovereign nation-states. It should be regarded with “outright derision” that they somehow “own” their internal resources.
This is also exactly what the UN document “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” claims: “We reaffirm that every State has, and shall freely exercise, full permanent sovereignty over all its wealth, natural resources and economic activity” (“UN Sustainable Development Goals,” item 18). This is what Rifkin’s support for the sovereign nation-state system entails. The Earth Constitution, by contrast, explicitly recognizes that the global commons belong to the people of Earth (e.g., Articles 4.22, 4.23, 4.24, and 13.9).
Most of The Green New Deal is about what is happening with green business in the EU, China, and the USA. But, as in his other volumes, Rifkin returns to the world level toward the end of this book in a section titled “Thinking Like a Species.” He says, “the great paradigm changes in human history are infrastructure revolutions that change our forms of governance, our cognition, and our very worldview” (p. 211). He then gives his account of the history of transformations of human consciousness (that I reviewed above) in which the empathic impulse has occurred within ever-larger frameworks that include both the great world religions and national loyalties to “nation-state identity” (p 213).
Here again he recognizes that government at nation-state levels has created “figurative families” and “larger collectivities” for human empathy. Yet, when it comes to “thinking like a species” and establishing a planetary empathic civilization with a “biosphere consciousness,” he implies that the technical infrastructure of the Third Industrial Revolution alone is sufficient to do this. He does not suggest the obvious—that if national governments created figurative, empathic national families, then democratic world government would clearly expand this transformation of consciousness to the species level that he deems necessary for a global green new deal. If we design a world system that truly is a holistic world system, then “thinking like a species” will automatically follow.
The Earth Constitution would certainly rapidly foster this transformation of consciousness because it is designed to do so. It is also designed to cede public ownership to our planetary commons (our oceans, air, and water) to the people of Earth. It is designed to holistically and effectively deal with the technical, logistical, and local empowerment actions that Rifkin recognizes as globally necessary to transform the entire planet to sustainability.
We need a deeper paradigm-shift if we are to truly achieve sustainable civilization. The Constitution is designed to demilitarize the planet—to eliminate wars, nuclear weapons, and the industrial-military complexes (which Rifkin largely ignores). The Constitution integrates our fragmented and flawed linear world system into a holistic unity-in-diversity thereby transforming the world’s system imperatives to peace, prosperity and sustainability. It should be clear that ratification of the Earth Constitution alone can truly give us the Planetary Green New Deal that is necessary for human survival and flourishing on our precious planet Earth.
Constitution for the Federation of Earth. With Historical Introduction, Commentary, and Conclusion by Glen T. Martin. Appomattox, VA: Institute for Economic Democracy Press. Also found on-line at www.earth-constitution.org. The World Legislation enacted by the Provisional World Parliament can be found on-line at www.worldproblems.net.
Brecher, Jeremy and Tim Costello (1994). Global Village or Global Pillage: Economic Reconstruction from the Bottom Up. Boston: South End Press.
Brown, Ellen Hodgson (2007). Web of Debt: The Shocking Truth about Our Money System. Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Third Millennium Press.
Chase-Dunn, Christopher (1998). Global Formation: Structures of World Economy. Updated Edition. New York: Rowman & Littlefield.
Chomsky, Noam (2003). Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance. New York: Henry Holt & Company.
Chomsky, Noam (1996). What Uncle Sam Really Wants. Tucson, AZ: Odonian Press.
Fuller, R. Buckminister (1981). Critical Path. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Harrington, Michael (1989). Socialism: Past and Future. The Classic Text on the Role of Socialism in Modern Society. New York: Arcade Publishing.
Hart, H.L.A. (1994). The Concept of Law: Second Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Martin, Glen T. (2008). Ascent to Freedom: Practical & Philosophical Foundations of Democratic World Law. Appomattox, VA: Institute for Economic Democracy Press.
Martin, Glen T. (2010). Triumph of Civilization: Democracy, Nonviolence, and the Piloting of Spaceship Earth. Appomattox, VA: Institute for Economic Democracy Press.
Martin, Glen T. (2018). Global Democracy and Human Self-Transcendence: The Power of the Future for Human Transformation. London: Cambridge Scholars Publishers.
Martin, Glen T. (2019). “The Tragedy of Our Planetary Commons,” on-line at my blog:
Parenti, Michael (1995). Democracy for the Few. Sixth Edition. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Piketty, Thomas (2014). Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Raworth, Kate (2017). Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing.
Rifkin, Jeremy (1989). Entropy: Into the Greenhouse World. Revised Edition. New York: Bantam Books.
Rifkin, Jeremy (2009). The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis. New York: Penguin Books.
Rifkin, Jeremy (2011). The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and the World. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Rifkin, Jeremy (2013). The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Rifkin, Jeremy (2019). The Green New Deal: Why the Fossil Fuel Civilization Will Collapse by 2028 and the Bold Economic Plan to Save Life on Earth. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Smith, J.W. (2013). Cooperative Capitalism: A Blueprint for Global Peace and Prosperity. Appomattox, VA: Institute for Economic Democracy Press.
Swimme, Brian and Thomas Berry (1992). The Universe Story: From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era—A Celebration of the Unfolding of the Cosmos. San Francisco: Harper San-Francisco Publishers.
UN Sustainable Development Goals: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/post2015/transformingourworld, item 18.)