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The Third Industrial Revolution
How Lateral Power Is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and the World
Jeremy Rifkin
read on December 1, 2016

This book was rubbish, which was super disappointing given Rifkin's reputation and influence. It sucks because I agree with many of his larger points, but couldn't tolerate his style and narrative positioning. It reads like the writing of a politician, not a serious critic or academic.  Here are some of my Kindle highlights from early on:

President Obama’s bailout package saved the banking system but did little for American families.

Regardless of agenda, partisan leanings, etc, to include a sentence like that just raises a flag for me that Rifkin isn't interested in having a serious conversation. Reasonable people can argue rationally about Obama's response to the 2008 financial crisis, but to say that it did little for American families is, at best, incredibly naive. This is logically equivalent to saying "the banking system does little for American families". I wonder what Rifkin thinks would have happened to American families had the banking system been allowed to collapse? I've never seen a serious intellectual argue this, for good reason.

The upshot of eighteen years of living off extended credit is that the United States is now a failed economy. The gross liabilities of the US financial sector, which were 21 percent of GDP in 1980, have risen steadily over the past twenty-seven years to an incredible 116 percent of GDP by 2007.31 Because the US, European, and Asian banking and financial communities are intimately intertwined, the credit crisis swept out of America and engulfed the entire global economy. Even more troubling, the International Monetary Fund forecasts that the federal government debt could equal the GDP by 2015, throwing in doubt the future prospects of the United States of America.

This is a long quote, but emblematic of what I saw repeatedly in the early chapters. The line about the gross liabilities of the US financial sector doesn't make sense at all here - why does that matter at all? Why are the liabilities of a single sector of the economy a supporting datapoint that the overall economy is a "failed state"? And why gross liabilities, rather than net? This reeks of just pulling out data for its own sake, making the argument look good, rather than actually supporting his point. Then the graph ends with the typical doom-and-gloom over US federal debt. Again, reasonable people can make good arguments either way as to how national debt affects future growth - but to just announce that it throws in doubt the future prospects of the country... I mean.. ug.

Rifkin on Obama admin's green energy programs:

We are left with a collection of pilot projects and siloed programs, none of which connects with the others to tell a compelling story of a new economic vision for the world. We’re strapped with a lot of dead-end initiatives—wasting billions of dollars of taxpayer money with nothing to show for it.

Really? Nothing to show for it? I get that Rifkin is pushing for a more comprehensive energy program, but this critisism is obviously hyperbolic garbage. This is throwing out the baby with the bathwater, and then just burning the whole house down as well. Is there no value in half-measures? Does Rifkin think Obama had the political capital to pass more comprehensive programs and just didn't? 

Later on, speaking about globalization:

The infrastructure that emerges annihilates time and shrinks space, connecting people and markets in more diverse economic relations.

and:

When those systems are put in place, economic activity advances, moving along a classic bell-shaped curve that ascends, peaks, plateaus, and descends in tandem with the strength of the multiplier effect established by the communications-energy matrix.

Blech. I had to stop reading here. 

Author Bio:

Jeremy 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 Francois Hollande of France, and Premier Li Keqiang of China. Mr. Rifkin's other recent titles include, The Empathic Civilization, The Age of Access, The End of Work, The European Dream, The 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 Jana 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.