Reply to a Review by Jedediah S. Purdy of The End of Work, by Jeremy Rifkin [G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1995], in the April 1995 issue of Perspective, Harvard-Radcliffe's Liberal Monthly.

Subject: Rifkin's "End of Work"


The critique of Rifkin's "End of Work" misses the main point that it is a continuation of the Luddite fallacy and of the economics of Herbert Hoover.

I just saw Rifkin on a television show this morning (Nov 16 [1996]), and he was still agreeing that Henry Ford's five dollar a day wage was the right idea. Wrong. Life gets better for the many by cutting prices, not by raising wages for the producers in a specific industry. Ford put the country on wheels by making a cheap car, not by raising his workers' wages. It is Say's Law, not the New Deal, that made Americans wealthy.

The "End of Work" is the same old nonsense that the people who get thrown out of work by increased productivity will have nowhere to go. Much the same could have been said in relation to the increase in agricultural productivity. Rifkin knows that the displaced agricultural workers simply went into industry, but now that industry is going the way of agriculture, and may only need 2% of the workforce, Rifkin doesn't know where they can go. Well, of course. If Rifkin knew where they could go, he would be starting a business instead of engaging in academic pontificating.

It is the hardest thing for intellectuals to understand, that just because they haven't thought of something, somebody else might. In fact, somebody else WILL, if we are to extrapolate on the most obvious trend of the past. Instead, Rifkin looks forward to a kind of Mediaeval stagnation. But that has always been what the Left is about anyway: Nostalgia for a fixed and ideal society--since much of the past is remembered as, in certain respects, ideal, even if there is no desire to say that it was all ideal. The Mediaeval ideal was, indeed, government by the Best and the Worthy, which to people like Rifkin means people like him. That money grubbing capitalists might be better for the lot of humanity than academics will never be acceptible, whatever the evidence.

Kelley L. Ross
Department of Philosophy
Los Angeles Valley College


Political Economy

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