could lead to a renaissance. Right now, it looks grim. We are seeing the polarization of every community and country into two tiers. The top 20 percent of the workforce in every country is doing pretty well. Those are the information workers, part of the global village. The bottom 80 percent of the work force in every country is the industrial work force, the middle management to the factory floor, and they are slowly being marginalized out of the new economy -- lower wages against rising productivity, more "just in time" employment or unemployment.

So yes, one might see this as a grim future. I choose to see this as one of the great opportunities for the human race. We are on the cusp of a technology so profound that it could free up hundreds of millions of human beings from toil in the marketplace. This could be a great renaissance for our children, but we haven't even begun to ask the tough questions to turn this from a grim future to a great leap forward from the 20th century.

What are those questions? One, what do we do with the millions of people, especially young people around this world, who will be needed less or not at all in an increasingly automated global economy? That is a straightforward question that ought to be on the public agenda in the U.S. and in every country. Two, how do we begin a serious, sober public debate on how best to share the vast potential productivity gains of this technology revolution so it benefits everyone in society and still keeps our corporations competitive in the domestic and global markets? Those are the two tough questions that ought to be in the public arena.

GT: One solution you have proposed, and actually have been discussing with government and business leaders in several countries, is reducing the workweek, thereby creating more jobs.

Rifkin: There are many ways this could be done other than ways I have suggested. Those countries that are pre-emptive and begin to systematically reduce the workweek and provide the appropriate government incentives to keep their companies competitive will be ahead of the herd. Because we will move to a shorter workweek, I tell you, it's coming. If it comes too late for countries, they are going to suffer in the process of transition. Productivity gains have to be shared or we risk social upheaval.

The debate over a shorter workweek has started in Italy, France, Germany and Spain. But even with a shorter workweek, we have got problems. We still will have millions of people who will not be needed in the marketplace, especially young people coming out of the schools. We are going to be able to produce the goods and services of this global economy in the next century with a fraction of the workforce we use now, just like in agriculture. Yes, we will create new opportunities, new goods and services, but they will be manufactured in new, workerless factories and marketed with virtual companies. We are going to create jobs at the top and jobs at the bottom, but possibly there is an opportunity to create jobs outside the market.

Maybe there is some life beyond the market. The problem we have now is we are stuck in the old political paradigm. We think of politics and solutions to jobs either coming from the marketplace or from government. What I'm saying is that neither set, alone or together, can deal with the enormity of this great historical change in world history. The marketplace is moving from local, domestic markets to the global. And it is even moving from geography to the electromagnetic spectrum. Primary commerce is going to be on the spectrum, not on geography. That is secondary commerce for the next century. And the market's

Blake Harris  |  Editor