A 0-marginal resource society does not exist

Rifkin some time ago wrote about the 0-marginal cost society. The book had a lot of attention. But cost is a complete different measuring unit as energy or greenhouse gasses. A 0-marginal cost society is not the same as a 0-marginal resource society!! On the contrary. A small example: At home a I have a very handy beach chair. Now, after a respectable 15 years or so, the cloth is torn.

Its loosly attached so easy to change , but the still existing producer does not sell it separatedly.

So off to the local sewing workshop. Yes, he can make it for us, costs around 65 euro. Plus buying the cloth. Not that extreme, but the same new beach chair costs 39,95. And following rifins arguing that would only become less. The industry spits out products in enourmous amounts, for nearly nothing.

Our society is therefore schizophrenic. What should be the norm, like generating local employment, reuse of the metal frames, repair and reuse, is therefore opposed by the system, which has created a monetary valuation that encourages consumption of products. And so the use of raw materials explodes. Rifkin sees the advantages in combination with a sharing and decentralized community organisation , with issues such as the Internet of things. But this does not offer solutions: sharing cars does not necessarily reduce car use, as I analyzed earlier [2], and also think of the crypto coins, the coin detached from the privatized banking system, which requires huge amounts of energy (and therefore wind turbines and solar panels, resources therefore) [3].

Such developments are almost always financial optimisations, and does certainly not lead to a 0-marginal resource society.

While that is what we need: reduction in raw materials use, of all kinds, to prevent adverse side effects and exhaustion. (developments which would also require less money investment, but that is precisely the stumbling block, with current financial rules, because the financial economy must grow)

So what you do get is increasingly effective machines, or organization of functions, that spit out products and services at marginal costs. Because less is earned per product, more and more must be consumed. That is the result of our calculation system in money, which optimizes money, but not resource use.

So you can forget about every attempt to reduce consumption, and reduce CO2 emissions, including those from production. The system is not suitable for this.

There is nothing else to do but take our own responsibility and make ourselves familiar with some old crafts. So my wife has plucked up courage finally to do the job herself, hoping that the sewing machine can handle the thicker fabric. And succeeded, at 20 euro cost for the fabric. Beaten the 0-marginal cost society ! However, against an investment of approximately 4 hours of work. (which was actually not too bad for a one-time job). Incidentally, 4 hours of work is therefore also energy, or space-time, in the sense that it requires food and agriculture (and solar energy) to make that work possible [1]. But we have not invested that time in earning money , with which more products could have been bought, and would have multiplied in continuous buying and selling) . And about the food eaten for providing the labor: we already had eaten that, even without the sewing job. [4]

Incidentally, that gives enormous satisfaction, just as I recently got an older household appliance going again. Satisfaction, at least for a part of humanity: thinking of the famous book ‘Zen and the art of motor maintenance’: “How can you enjoy driving a motorbike if you cannot maintain and repair it yourself? “Was more or less a central philosophical question therein. I’m clearly on the repair side. And that also seems to be the only way to prevent raw material depletion and impact, and to curb consumer drive. Self-reliance. Which would require to train everyone again in basic skills: sewing lessons, carpentry lessons, some electricity theory, bicycle repair lessons. To summarize as “make and repair lessons”, made mandatory in standard education. Otherwise, we can forget about any transition.

While we are at chamging education lets also introduce some ‘smart living lessons’ at the same time: How to keep your house cool without air conditioning, how to stay healthy without (preventive) medication, How to dry the laundry without a tumble dryer ….  I suddenly recall that it was somewhat built into my high school days, with an hour of handicrafts or manual labor every week!

My tendency to want to fix everything first is also prompted by a certain stinginess. I have trouble spending money , especially on repetition of things:  replacing something with the same thing. (when it comes to good food, I don’t have that, though I always prefer to eat something different) But a certain amount of stinginess is perhaps a good trait. Could be applied as extra lessons: ‘lessons in becoming rich’, but not by earning more,  but by spending less. This reminds me of a friend who told me the storey of a gypsy who was nicknamed ’the millionaire’. He did not have a million, but during his life he had already spent a million ….. If you add everything together you will also come a long way …. If I had not spent that all,  I would have a care-free old age …. and plenty of hobbies in repairing things ….

So getting rich by teaching stinginess, it seems like a nice challenge to try out as teaching in a high school class..

Incidentally, self-reliance is not such a bad idea, and has already been widely used as a municipal policy, such as at the time in Curitiba, Brazil. The mayor, Jaime Lerner, in his attempt to create employment and combat poverty, set up workshops where residents were given free sewing lessons, or a training in welding, or as plumber etc. After the training people were given a workshop for limited time to start their own trading. It has proven to be very effective, not only in acquiring an income but also in the self-reliance of people. This major had more luminous ideas for Curitiba, which I will write about another time.

Back to 0-marignal cost production, which is completely disruptive for society, in the sense that the overrules repair and reuse completely, if replacement becomes almost free …..? ( even if products are shared, repair by the service provider will remain more expensive as near 0-cost replacement)

Which leaves costs to be invested only in the development of a product. But even that is becoming increasingly automated. Printed circuit boards are not anymore designed behind a desk, but by software. There are already books written by algorithms, and they are starting to look better and better. People are making money from travel guides by combining text fragments that are freely present on the internet , into a travel guide. Fully automatically. The same with regard to music … Ok, as soon as raw materials are involved, they still have to be extracted somewhere, which implies energy investments. But hey, that will be renewable, so what difference does it make? That is at least a common argument in the discussions about energy-intensive materials. Fake of course. Producing renewable energy also requires materials, and we are back where we started: 0-marginal cost production, even including development costs, is not 0-marginal resource production. Now that in fact is the limiting factor: There is only 1 earth, we cannot get of, the amount of raw materials is limited, and with that also the amount of energy that we can generate in a sustainable way.

I am afraid it will continue until our near 0-cost products consumption reaches its physical limits. From an evolutionary point of view, it is not even that special.

Of course we have seen it coming for a long time: in the past, clothing was used until it ripped apart, the clothes were adjusted, tailor-made for the second or third child, or afterwards used for patchwork , to end as cleaning cloth. While these days we buy our cleaning cloths. Very luxurious indeed.If every family in the world buys a new cleaning cloth every month, that would be 3 billion a month, or 36 billion cleaning cloths a year.

If they are 20×20 cm, then it adds up to : 25 per m2, totalling 1.5 billion m2, or 1500 km2 of cloth just for cleaning … per year! And they are also thrown away every year! At marginal costs, then again.

This will continue for a while, as long as we do not teach ourselves to build in any self-sufficiency, as long as money creation is based on nothing, as long as we continue to tax labor, and as long as we see raw materials as a naturally given and abundant.

(I write this by the way sitting on the beach in the chair restored by my ega. Tribute!)



PS. After writing this text, a tiny crack occurred in the newly covered beach chair. It appears we have used the wrong fabric…. We will redo the job when back home, everything must be learned.  Anyway, we will have enough cleaning cloth for the moment… (and maybe the marginal-cost for the fabric will have decreased at the time…).



[1] Jeremy Rifkin, The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism


[2] http://www.ronaldrovers.com/sharing-leasing-a-good-idea-on-value-and-quality/

[3] http://www.ronaldrovers.com/how-many-windmills-the-windmill-index/

[4] http://www.ronaldrovers.com/labor-a-lost-renewable-energy-source/

Author: ronald rovers