Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Rifkin's new book continued

Continuing from this post.

Chapter 12 is on defining and controlling the IoT. The problem is that the capitalists of the earlier industrial revolutions want to own and control the new infrastructure with their centralized, top-down command and control methodology. And yet the IoT is itself structured for distributed, collaborative, lateral, peer-to-peer modes. The latter is also more ideally suited for management of renewable energies, as they also exemplify the same qualities.

Focusing on the 3 parts of the IoT Rifkin starts with the communications internet. We see the dominant ISPs wanting to use the capitalist model to end net neutrality so they can create fast and slow lanes on different fee scales. While they won't admit it, this will also create content interference as those with less money will be relegated to slower connection speeds. And likely some content providers might be eliminated access altogether if they espouse philosophies contrary to the kind of capitalist paradigm of the owners of access. The IPS use capitalist justification that they need to continually feed the beast of ever-growing profits when in fact they already make a shitload of money selling neutral access. They are under the spell of capitalist winner take all mentality that leads inevitably to greed.

It's not just the ISPs that want to dominate the internet. Social networking sites like Facebook also have a capitalist model in which they want to dominate all member personal information as proprietarily enclosed to do with as they please. This includes selling it to third parties for advertising lists, as well as forking it over the the NSA on 'national security' grounds. It also includes the very real possibility of selling it to insurance companies which could affect one's coverage and premiums with private information not typically available. This is also a concern when employers track your personal information in making hiring or firing decisions. I've read that some employers will not even consider a candidate unless they have a comprehensive personal profile obtained from the internet.

Other areas of internet enclosure are also of concern. Google has a 66% market share in the US (much higher in other countries), Amazon 33%, eBay 99%, Facebook 72%. Twitter has 500 million registered users. They thus control access to, and the content of, information in ways conducive to their own capitalistic motives. These companies constitute an oligopoly in direct opposition to the very nature and structure of the internet. To “just hope that corporate goodwill will be sufficient to preserve the integrity of the process is at best na├»ve and at worst foolhardy” (203).

Big energy companies want to control the energy internet, again dominating with their capitalist structure. In some cases they are blocking the emergence of a smart grid altogether. Fortunately the EU has instituted regulations to keep it an open format, requiring them to unbundle energy production from transmission. Feed-in tariffs are also promoting local and regional green energy production. He cites the huge success story of the Tennessee Valley Authority, where the government invested in creating a huge hydroelectric plant for these rural areas previously without electricity. They empowered local electricity cooperatives through low-interest loans to build the infrastructure. And they did so much more efficiently and at lower cost than the big private companies could. The results were a boom to not only the local but the national economy.

He then devotes a section to cooperatives generally, with impressive statistics on their successes. He concludes that “cooperatives are the only business model that will work in a near zero marginal cost society” (214).

In terms of logistics, the capitalist way of handling this is incredibly inefficient and costly. Companies only have so many distribution centers, each of which must cover large areas. Thus when it comes to shipping goods drivers must take circuitous routes adding to fuel costs. Also the goods often stay in these isolated centers for far too long thus causing spoilage and/or backlogs, not being delivered in a timely fashion causing shortages on store shelves. Whereas if logistics were managed on the commons model, all of the 535,000 existing distribution centers and warehouses could be shared. This would allow the drivers to just do one leg of the journey with a full load instead of cross-regional or cross-country journeys with diminishing loads to limited distribution centers. This of course will require the logistics internet to track all the trucks and goods, and time the exchanges at the centers to arrive at their end destinations efficiently. There is considerable savings on cargo space, fuel costs and quicker delivery via these shared and distributed logistics.

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