In the world of futurist writing, dystopia reigns. Writers populating that world hunt current data and extrapolate to foretell future catastrophe. In Laurence Smith’s The World in 2050 the Arctic melts. In Jared Diamond’s Collapse we trigger our demise by ignoring the collapsing environment. In Gwynne Dyer’s Future Tense we are sowing the seeds of World War 3.
The problem is that the real future obliges the dystopians no more than the utopians. Remember the 1962 book (and later film) A Clockwork Orange about a hyper-violent future? In the 1960s our crime rate went ballistic and Clockwork seemed likely. Yet today crime rates plummet and, contrary to loud and ludicrous media pundits, urban violence is at an all-time low.
THE ZERO MARGINAL MESSAGE
The truth is data can predict only human patterns, not human potential. Nor can data predict our drive to survive collapse events. Predicting such things takes foresight, logic and optimism. Enter Jeremy Rifkin’s audacious book The Zero Marginal Cost Society and his story of a new kind of future.
An internationally renown economist and advisor to governments worldwide, Jeremy Rifkin is no stranger to global trends or deep thinking. His book is a tough slog in economic history, but well worth the effort if you want to know why economic systems unfold as they do. Agrarianism, Socialism, Communism and Capitalism - Rifkin dissects the Big Four and in the process rankles both far left and far right.
That alone is reason to read the book!
The trouble with those systems, says Rifkin, is they worked only for a time. Now they are mostly dead. And capitalism, outed by the Great Recession and the looming debt crash, is also obsolete. In its place emerges the Collaborative Commons.
"The Collaborative Commons is ascendant and by 2050 it will likely settle in as the primary arbiter of economic life in most of the world. We are already witnessing the emergence of a hybrid economy…" (Rifkin, page 1)
The Collaborative Commons shows up in Zip Cars, children’s toy exchanges like Baby Plays, 3-D printing, MOOCS and crowdfunding, all early inventions of the new economic system.
Another is the L3C social enterprise corporation, a corporate model unimagined by capitalist theory. Not quite profit and not quite charity, the L3C uses marginal profits for maximum social goals - exactly the kind of thing predicted in Collaborative Commons (SIDE NOTE - I helped co-create a social enterprise for vetting private security companies who contract for public safety).
Collaborative Commons show up everywhere. Nextdoor.com helps us solve everyday problems by connecting us with neighbors in a real (not virtual) place. Criminology’s most promising prevention theory - collective efficacy - is Collaborative Commons incarnate. Sampson’s book Great American City demonstrates that collaborative, altruistic behavior drives most successful and lower crime neighborhoods, exactly what SafeGrowth predicts.
Zero Marginal Cost is not utopian. It admits, for a time, prolific consumption will continue. Capitalism will survive in a niche to drive innovative technology. Yet its days of dominance, says Rifkin, are numbered. And every time we see the dynamism (and low crime) in community gardens, farmer’s markets, co-housing projects, food cooperatives, and micro-finance, we are reminded that collaboration has long been wired into our civic DNA.