work in the mail room, if you are on the factory floor, if you are garden-variety middle management, if you are a bank teller or librarian, if you are in wholesale or retail, the chances are your job will not be here five years from now.

The best way to understand the enormity of this shift taking place is to look at agriculture at the turn of the last century. We were a nation of farmers just 100 years ago. Now, less that two-and-a-half percent of our population is on the farm. We have sophisticated technology producing the output. We can feed the world with a fraction of the work force we needed 100 years ago.

Now we are seeing a comparable technological revolution sweep through the industrial sectors, manufacturing and the service industries. When I was a young man studying economics in the 1960s, the U.S. was a blue-collar nation. We were a nation of factory workers. A third of our workers were on the factory floor. Today, we've cut that to 17 percent and we are still the number one manufacturing power in the world. We are simply doing it with less people and more intelligent technology. U.S. Steel, the quintessential company of the Industrial Age, had 120,000 employees producing steel in 1980. Today, U.S.S. has only 20,000 workers. But those 20,000 workers are producing more steel than 120,000 workers did 16 years ago.

Peter Drucker estimates that only 12 percent of U.S. workers will be on the factory floor 10 years from now. We will still be number one in manufacturing. By the year 2020, we will see the virtual elimination of the blue-collar factory worker from world history. Less than 2 percent of the global workforce will still be in what we call traditional mass assembly line work. We already have workerless factories.

GT: One of the chief concerns today in America is the migration of manufacturing jobs to countries where labor costs are much cheaper. Yet you suggest that even this is a temporary situation.

Rifkin: Let me give you an example of how quickly this may change. The two cheap labor markets responsible for growth in Mexico, Central America and Asia are textile and electronic component production. Each have traditionally been labor-intensive employment centers. Today, German engineers are perfecting the automation of sewing, and we are quickly moving to automated electronic component production.

The cheapest, most exploited worker in the Third World will not be as cheap as the technology coming online to replace them. I work with Fortune 1000 companies, and we are now talking about engineering so cheap, with so little margin, that we give the technology away as a platform and begin to sell a relationship with the client instead. What is going to happen in Mexico and India, Pakistan, Singapore, Malaysia and China in less than five years when the cheapest worker there cannot compete with the technology to replace them? And what happens to our export market? To export, there has to be purchasing power. For purchasing power, there has to be mass employment.

GT: So, as you see it, the fundamental problem is that technology will continue to eliminate jobs, not just in America, but internationally?

Rifkin: Well, if this was the only shift taking place -- manufacturing -- that would be a tumultuous upheaval. But there is more. In the past it was long assumed that if you lose a job in manufacturing, you could be retrained for a job in white-collar service industries. But just look at what is happening in the banking industry, the finance industry, the insurance industry, the wholesale and retail sectors. All major white-collar industries are deconstructing. They are eliminating layer after layer of management and infrastructure. The goal is to create a whole new type of organization. We call it a virtual organization --

Blake Harris  |  Editor