The End of Work

Technological unemployment

The End of Work: The Decline of the Global Labor Force and the Dawn of the Post-Market Era’ is a non-fiction book by American economist Jeremy Rifkin, published in 1995.

Rifkin contended that worldwide unemployment would increase as information technology eliminated tens of millions of jobs in the manufacturing, agricultural, and service sectors. He predicted devastating impact of automation on blue-collar, retail and wholesale employees.

While a small elite of corporate managers and knowledge workers would reap the benefits of the high-tech world economy, the American middle class would continue to shrink and the workplace become ever more stressful. As the market economy and public sector decline, Rifkin predicted the growth of a third sector—voluntary and community-based service organizations—that would create new jobs with government support to rebuild decaying neighborhoods and provide social services. To finance this enterprise, he advocated scaling down the military budget, enacting a value added tax on nonessential goods and services and redirecting federal and state funds to provide a ‘social wage’ in lieu of welfare payments to third-sector workers.

A number of economists and sociologists have been critical of Jeremy Rifkin for being one of the major contributors to the ‘end of work’ discourse and literature of the 1990s. Autonomist (socialist) political philosopher George Caffentzis concluded that Rifkin’s argument is flawed because it is based on a technological determinism that does not take into account the dynamics of employment and technological change in the capitalist era. A major theme of the ‘The End of Work’ is that productivity would lead to the destruction of jobs; however, the book appeared when productivity growth had been in a slowdown since the early 1970s.

Because the widespread use of computers in the 1980s and early 1990s did not live up to the high expectations for productivity growth, this was called the productivity paradox. Strong productivity growth finally appeared in the late 1990s and lasted a few years, then slowed down again. The productivity slowdown is still being debated. Strong growth but without absorbing large numbers of unemployed people is called a jobless recovery.

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