This activist/philosopher/author talks to Inc. Technology about the long-range effects of technology on employees.
Activist/philosopher Jeremy Rifkin writes often about technology and economic trends. His most recent book, The End of Work (Tarcher/Putnam, 1995), examines the growing worldwide unemployment crisis. He recently spoke to Inc. Technology about the long-range effects of technology on the workforce.
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On worker displacement by technology: "Sophisticated computers, telecommunications, and robots are fast replacing entire job categories. One of the main arguments by conventional economists has been that new jobs will always open up because of new technologies. When, for example, the horse and buggy was replaced by the automobile, lots of people lost jobs in the buggy trade -- but more people found jobs in the auto industry. The difference today is this: if you were to come up with a new product with a universal market potential comparable to that of television or computers, you could manufacture the product in near-workerless factories, and you could market the product with virtual companies."
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On the economic effects of the information age: "The Achilles' heel in the information age is loss of purchasing power. As it becomes more efficient to replace mass labor with computer technologies and an elite high-tech workforce, there will not be enough people left with rising incomes and paychecks to absorb the increased production."
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On the role of small business: "'Small is beautiful' has arrived and is now a bottom-line concept for companies all over the world.
The distinction between small and large companies -- at least in terms of physical size and labor forces -- is going to become increasingly blurred. As we move further into the information age, success will be measured by how small you can get and still increase your revenues.
In the past small businesses were considered engines -- creators of new employment. But because success is going to be measured by fewer and fewer employees, even though small businesses will continue to create jobs, they're not going to create as many jobs as will be necessary to absorb so many of the mass laborers who are being replaced [by technology] in both the manufacturing and the service sectors. So what we have to do is find new vehicles to accommodate the workforce. And we have not yet had that debate in this country."