Navigation: This page '' ---> Using Dooy ---> Main Page. HELP. Admin. Contact.

Jeremy Rifkin's Prediction of the Eclipse of Capitalism
- A Dooyeweerdian Analysis

"The capitalist era is passing - not quickly, but inevitably" claims Jeremy Rifkin, in his 2014 book The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism. "Rising in its wake is a new global collaborative Commons that will fundamentally transform our way of life." He argues this on the basis of economic theories like marginal costs, but tries to bring in many other aspects too.

Looking on the Amazon website for this book, we find an abstract that summarises the book, starting with those words. We also find comments from a number of readers, some positive, some critical. Positive comments hail Rifkin's work as important insight; critical comments call it 'fluff' and 'shallow'. A battle ensues, for versus against.

How do we judge Rifkin's arguments? In this page, I apply Dooyeweerdian thinking, especially Dooyeweerd's aspects to the abstract as found on the website. As we will see, both supporters and critics have a point, and Rifkin's ideas offer valuable insight, but it is as yet impaired insight.

I apply phrase-by-phrase aspectual analysis, and come out with some overall conclusions. The table below has shows three parts to such an analysis: where the meaning within the sentences may be affirmed, where it may be critiqued, and where we might use Dooyeweerd's ideas to enrich it.

The analysis may be used as an exemplar of how aspectual analysis of text can be carried out.

Dooyeweerdian Affirmation, Critique and Enrichment of Rifkin's Ideas
From Abstract Dooyeweerdian affirmation Dooyeweerdian critique Dooyeweerdian enrichment
"The capitalist era is passing - not quickly, but inevitably." Yes, think long-term. But don't be too hasty. Lots of aspects to consider - irreducibly distinct spheres of meaning and law.

Read on ...

"Rising in its wake is a new global collaborative Commons that will fundamentally transform our way of life." 'Way of life' involves all aspects. The Shalom Principle is useful for analysing diversity.
"Ironically, capitalism's demise is not coming at the hands of hostile external forces. Rather, ... capitalism is a victim of its own success." "Victim of its own success" usually means that something has been absolutized, idolized. Ultimately, idols deliver the opposite of what they promise. Must understand absolutization. 1. The economic aspect enables efficient care of resources. But absolutizing an aspect (making it the only meaningful one) ultimately undermines it. That is what capitalism has done.

2. Understand the process of absolutization: the pistic functioning by which our idols imprison us [see Bob Goudzwaard's Idols of our Time].

"Intense competition across sectors of the economy is forcing the introduction of ever newer technologies." "Forcing" = An aspect demanding that other aspects serve it. Is competition really necessary to the economic aspect, or does it distort it? 1. Explore how capitalism encourages the economic aspect to demands that other aspects serve it. Including, but not only, the formative aspect that enables technology.

2. Explore the core nature of economic functioning: carefulness rather than competition. Does not competition presuppose that only this (economic) kind of object is meaningful - absolutization? Does not "intense" reinforce absolutization?

"... this competition is boosting productivity to its optimal point where the marginal cost of producing additional units is nearly zero, which makes the product essentially free." Written into the laws of every aspect is its own inner limitation, a manifestation of its own inherent non-absoluteness. Zero marginal cost manifests the inherent non-absoluteness of the economic aspect. Is it really enough to understand this solely in terms of economic functioning, as Rifkin tries to? The significance of marginal cost is not confined to the economic aspect, but other aspects too.

Think: what is marginal cost? It is a transduction from the economic notion of value to the quantitative notion of amount. All such transductions lose something meaningful, blinding us to some important things. The assumption that we can do this is a belief not a fact; it is pistic functioning by us. By centring his argument on zero marginal cost, therefore, we can expect that Rifkin is ignoring something important. See below.

"In turn, profits are drying up, property ownership is becoming meaningless, and ..." 1. Profits drying up - meaningful in economic aspect

2. Ownership - meaningful in juridical aspect.

A combination of aspects like this can be confusing. Two kinds of confusion exemplified here:

1. Misunderstanding of kernel meaning of an aspect. The laws of the economic aspect are not centrally about profits but about frugality and the scarcity of resources.

2. Conflation of two aspects. Western competitive capitalism, which emphasises the individual entity, smuggles in the meaningfulness of ownership from the juridical aspect in order to find a way of attaching the economic idea of goods to the individual subject.

"In turn, ... and an economy based on scarcity is giving way to an economy of abundance, changing the very nature of society." Scarcity and abundance: two economic ideas. But which is the real meaningful core: scarcity or abundance? Is abundance (rather than 'enough') an unmitigated good? 1. Scarcity. According to Dooyeweerd, the exercise of frugality is a fundamental Good functioning that is meaningful in the economic aspect. It will never be made redundant by abundance. All things are in fact scarce, limited.

2. Enough. This is the Good result that is related to frugality, and is sustainable. (Poverty is when there is not enough.)

3. Abundance is not good. (a) Abundance (Apparently unlimited resources, More than enough) encourages waste of things the world cannot afford to waste. (b) Appearance of abundance is usually due to transgressing the juridical norm of due; my abundance results from injustice to you or to the origin of the resource.

4. Abundance offered by the Internet. Pre-economic aspects know nothing of the difference between enough and abundance. Including the lingual, the aspect that qualifies the Internet. So information seems limitless, abundant. Is this unmitigated good? (a) Information overload. (b) We spend too much time processing information. (c) Even data mining only summarises information by squeezing out much meaning, giving us a misleading picture. (This shows the lingual aspect needs the economic to work well.)

"... hundreds of millions of people are already transferring parts of their economic lives from capitalist markets to global networked Commons. 'Prosumers' are producing their own information, entertainment, green energy, and 3-D printed products at nearly zero marginal cost, and sharing them via social media sites, rentals, redistribution clubs, bartering networks, and cooperatives. Meanwhile, students are enrolling in massive open online courses (MOOCs) that also operate at near-zero marginal cost." A variety of aspectual functionings here, most of which transcend the economic: information (lingual), entertainment (aesthetic), green energy (physical and juridical), printing (lingual and physical), social media (social), etc. So can we not expect the operation of reality to burst the confines of the economic at some time? To understand how this occurs, consider all relevant aspects explicitly, not just the economic.
"And young social entrepreneurs are establishing ecologically sensitive businesses, crowdsourcing capital, and even creating alternative currencies in the new sharable economy." Until the advent of a zero-cost Internet, zero marginal cost was never possible. Notice the dependency of this on the opening up of the potential of the lingual aspect. However, is the excitement that these new possibilities afford, engendering a rather rosy, shallow view? Shallowness is the criticism that many reviewers made. Dooyeweerd's aspects offer a useful way of deepening the discourse, by separating out distinct issues and disclosing those that are taken for granted.
"As a result, 'exchange value' in the marketplace - long the bedrock of our economy - is increasingly being replaced by 'use value' on the collaborative Commons." As it should!
Egbert Schuurman's principle: opening up of each aspect should be guided not by its own norms but by those of other aspects. Exchange is of economic aspect; use is of formative aspect.
However, there are more aspects for the economic to serve than just the formative (use value). Consider other aspectual kinds of value, such as justice (juridical), beauty and fun (aesthetic), relationships (social), etc. Each aspect defines a distinct kind of aspectual capital. Alongside economic, social and intellectual capital, why not discuss e.g. 'attitudinal capital' (ethical aspect)?
"In this new era, identity is less bound to what one owns and more to what one shares. Cooperation replaces self-interest, access trumps ownership, and networking drubs autonomy." Here Rifkin is recognising the importance of the ethical aspect of self-giving. But does he really understand this aspect, or is 'sharing' mere 'fluff'? Important:

1. We need a thoroughgoing understanding of the ethical aspect of self-giving and its relationship to the economic.

2. Then we will be able to understand to what extent competition and self-interest are not inherent in the economic aspect and not essential even to Capitalism, despite current assumptions. We will begin to understand how collaboration and self-giving can also be valid even within Capitalism. No longer need rely on romantic 'fluff'.

3. The Challenge: carry out longitudinal studies involving empirical research.

"Rifkin concludes that while capitalism will be with us for at least the next half century, albeit in an increasingly diminished role, it will no longer be the dominant paradigm." Paradigm is to be understood via the faith aspect - as something that we believe, commit to, trust and take for granted. Understand paradigm shift from an aspectual point of view - as the recognition of missing aspects, interest in them, exploring them, and them becoming dominant in turn [see Basden 1999].
"We are, Rifkin says, entering a world beyond markets where we are learning how to live together collaboratively and sustainably in an increasingly interdependent global Commons." i.e. post-economic aspects like the ethical and aesthetic (harmony). Consider how economic functioning interacts with the functioning of each one of the aspects of reality.


1. Though Rifkin believes marginal cost theory can explain the eclipse of capitalism, Dooyeweerd believes the problem lies in absolutization of the economic aspect and ignoring of the others. All aspects are necessary for genuine prosperity (which includes delight, justice, attitude and trust as well as cash), and they are also necessary for sustainable economic health.

2. This Dooyeweerdian analysis neither defends nor attacks capitalism, nor the Internet, but provides a way to think about and discuss them.

3. A Dooyeweerdian analysis of Rifkin can show where his ideas are sound (affirmation), can pinpoint what needs to be questioned (critique), and can suggest fruitful ways to enrich his ideas and take them further.

4. Main affirmation of Rifkin by Dooyeweerd: Each aspect brings its own distinct kind of good into reality; economic good is careful use of limited resources. Absolutizing the economic aspect, as Capitalism does today, turns this good sour and undermines its own operation. lingual aspect of information, and ethical aspect of sharing are particularly important.

5. Main critique: Does Rifkin try to reduce these to (explain these in terms of) solely economic concepts like marginal cost? Is this why his treatment seems shallow?

6. Main enrichment: Explore the importance of every aspect in the economy. In particular, understand more precisely and humbly the kernel meanings of the economic, lingual and ethical aspects, and how aspects depend on each other.

Is anyone up for the challenge?


Basden A, (1999). Engines of Dialectic. Philosophia Reformata v.64, n.1, pp.15-36. (Hegel's dialectic reinterpreted using Dooyeweerd's philosophy, in a way that accounts for the variety of green movements.)

This page is part of a collection that discusses application of Herman Dooyeweerd's ideas, within The Dooyeweerd Pages, which explain, explore and discuss Dooyeweerd's interesting philosophy. Email questions or comments are welcome.

Written on the Amiga and Protext.

You may use this material subject to conditions. Compiled by Andrew Basden.

Created: 11 March 2015 Last updated: