Magazine article Reason

Trans-Atlantic Tripe: Jeremy Rifkin's Theory of Failed States

Magazine article Reason

Trans-Atlantic Tripe: Jeremy Rifkin's Theory of Failed States

Article excerpt

The American Dream, warns Jeremy Rifkin, is on the ropes, thanks to "depleting resources, increased pollution, rising costs of production, spiraling inflation, low return on investments, escalating capital shortfalls and limits to technology." Our vaunted productivity has "bottomed out."

Actually, that was Rifkin's prediction in his 1979 tome The Emerging Order. Most would argue that America made a comeback in the '80s and '90s, but Rifkin has stuck to his story. Now America is really staggering into obsolescence. His latest work, The European Dream (Tarcher), is his chronicle of the society that will overtake it.

On its own, the idea of the European Union as a rising superpower is an easy sell. In the last decade, after the Soviet superpower fell apart, European patriotism soared. A 2001 survey in the European edition of Time suggested that a third of E.U. citizens between 21 and 35 "now regard themselves as more European than as nationals of their home country." And it's a good time to be European. AS Rifkin points out, the E.U. is the world's largest single market, with a $10.5 trillion GDP. Some member nations are outpacing the U.S. in economic growth. The E.U. exports more than it imports. Most auspiciously, since 2001 the euro's value has risen steadily as the dollar has weakened.

Rifkin spares no praise on these figures. Sure, the growth might be slowing down, but what's really important is that "Europeans have laid out a visionary roadmap to a new promised land, one dedicated to re-affirming the life instinct and the Earth's indivisibility."

As proof, he offers that "more emigrants are choosing Europe over America than ever before." We don't get any statistics to back up that claim, or rejoinders to the E.U.'s own modest immigration numbers, or estimates of how many immigrants come from former European colonies, or a theory of why nearly 175,000 Europeans became American citizens in 2002. But the idea of Europe as a beacon for the poor, hungry, and downtrodden is dropped pretty quickly. Rifkin's point isn't that Europe is becoming a new America, it's that America's way of life has got to go.

Rifkin's real beef is with individualism, and with "the European Enlightenment idea that equates private property with freedom." (He's using "Enlightenment" as a pejorative.) Even if it didn't spoil the environment and burn up resources, he tells us, the American lifestyle would be headed for a fall because the dreamers aren't being fulfilled. …

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