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The good life in the Post-Market Age

by Jeremy Rifkin

The year is 2045.

Life for most Americans is quite different today from what it was half a century ago. Perhaps the greatest visible change is the diminishing role of the economic marketplace in day-to-day affairs. Now that we are deep into the Information Age, most of the world's goods and services are produced in nearly workerless factories and marketed by virtual companies run by a small team of entrepreneurs and highly trained professionals. Sophisticated computers, robots, and state-of-the-art telecommunications technologies have replaced the "worker" of the industrial era. Less than 20 percent of the adult population works full time.

Most Americans receive their economic livelihood, in the form of voucher payments, from their local governing body in return for community service work in nonprofit organizations. The vouchers are financed by the imposition of a value-added tax on high-tech goods and services.

Their projects run the gamut from helping take care of children and the elderly to working in preventive health programs, local art galleries, park maintenance, history projects, adult education, community gardens, and neighborhood sports teams as well as religious and political activities. Interestingly enough, the kind of nurturing and community-building skills that characterize work in the volunteer sector are the least vulnerable to replacement by computers, robots, and telecommunications technology. While market-oriented tasks—even highly technical and professional jobs—are often reducible to digitization and computerization, caring tasks that require intimate relationships between people are far too complex and difficult to be attended to by high-tech software. In the Post-Market Era, these are the high-status jobs. Because the productivity gains resulting from technological advances have been broadly distributed among all Americans, people's work—whether in a community service or private business—takes up fewer than five hours a day, leaving more time for family, friends, personal projects, and relaxation. Some of the wealth from the high-tech revolution is also being shared with people in developing nations.


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The values of the market economy that so dominated the industrial era have steadily given way to a new ethos based on personal transformation, community participation, and global responsibility. The older market system reinforced a materialist vision glorifying production and efficiency as the chief means of advancing happiness. As long as people's primary identification was with the market economy, the vision of unlimited personal consumption continued to influence most people's behavior. Americans thought of themselves first and foremost as "consumers," not as neighbors or citizens.

As more and more human beings were freed up from formal work in the market economy and began doing community service in the social economy, the values of community began to gain dominance across America and around the world. In preparation for a career in the social economy, children learn at home and in schools the value of helping others and of strengthening neighborhood and community bonds. While children spend part of their school time deep in cyberspace and virtual reality, they are expected to spend the remainder of their school experience in "real time," meeting people in their communities, helping create a more humane and ecologically sustainable society. Hands-on community service has become an integral part of the school experience. Youngsters help out in senior centers, animal shelters, environmental cleanup projects, and countless other neighborhood programs. They are prepared for a full life, not simply for a job. The emphasis on personal participation with others in the community is seen as a necessary antidote to the increasingly impersonal interaction generated by new computer and telecommunication technologies.

The transition to a Post-Market Era has not been easy. Corporate leaders and other vested interests fought the shift to a social economy every step of the way, particularly in the first decades of the 21st century. Nonetheless, support for postmarket social policies continued to grow as more and more people were marginalized by the workings of the market economy. Although some opposition continues to this day from critics clinging to the values of the 20th-century market ethos, mostAmericans have adjusted well to the new Post-Market Era, enjoying the freedom that comes with less work in the marketplace.

Jeremy Rifkin is president of the Foundation on Economic Trends, 1660 L St. NW, Suite 216, Washington. DC 20036. His most recent book on this subject is entitled The End of Work: The Decline of the Global Labor Force and Dawn of the Post-Market Era. First published in the May/June 1995 issue of the Utne Reader, this article was reprinted with permission granted by the author.

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