Revolutionary Wealth by Alvin and Heidi Toffler, Chapters 1-13

I had probably the best sociology teacher in the world when I was in college. We only had one class together but I think the guy’s name was Jerry Savell’s – he’d done a ton of study with Amish communities (I think it was Amish – might have been another cloistered group). He was an amazing teacher. He constantly referenced the works of Alvin and Heidi Toffler and I remember trying to read Future Shock and The Third Wave and not really understanding exactly what was going on. I’m making another go at it with reading the Tofflers’ new book, Revolutionary Wealth.
What I like so far is that so much of it is directly tied into all of this techie stuff: blogging, podcasting, ecommerce, virtual assistants. It is also a pretty utopian book (I just got done reading American Theocracy which scared the hell out of me). It does seem a bit dated already and I’m guessing if you’ve read the Tofflers’ earlier stuff than you can skip the first few chapters laying out the 3 waves of economic development in world history.
Part I – Revolution
Chapter 1: Spearheading Wealth
People turn to escape: ‘irreality’
Trends: synchronization industry, loneliness industry, prosumers (consumers who create media – nothing new here)
American culture in global context: promotes greater individuality that can be seen as a threat to community – seducing into nihilism, license and decadence.
1956 – more white collar workers than blue collar
1966 – Nation of Women: today’s technology has eliminated the quality of muscular strength as a criterion in filling most jobs.
Revolutions lead to breakdown in the role structure of society.
Chinese will soon be the most widely used language on the internet.
Today’s scientists no longer skittish talking about cyborgs, time travel, near-immortality, antigravity.
Chater 2: The Children of Desire
Wealth can sometimes buy things money cannot.
(origin of wealth is desire)
Wealth – any possession share or not that has utility.
Cultures that promote desire and pursue wealth do not necessarily attain it. Cultures that preach the virtues of poverty usually get precisely what they pray for.
Part II – Deep Fundamentals
Chapter 3: Waves of Wealth
Humanity’s ability to produce economic surplus helps create first true wealth system – allowed permanent villages and ensuing social structures.
First Wave – agrarian – need for barter/exchange/buying/selling – large extended families
Second Wave – industrialism – mass production, mass education, mass media, mass culture, urban-industrial elite displaces rural-agri elite – nuclear families – hierarchical
Third Wave – de-massify production, markets and society – alternate/diverse family forms – flattened organizations – networks
All three waves overlap in countries like China, Brazil, India
Chapter 4: Deep Fundamentals
Deep fundamentals – past the fundamentals that economists tout – all economies, all stages, all cultures, every civilization.
The three waves: the plow, the assembly line and the computer.
Deep fundamental – WORK – the invention of the ‘job’ – future superspecialists.
Part III – Rearranging Time
Chapter 5 – The Clash of Speeds
Key public institutions are out of step with the whirlwind change that surrounds them.
Industrial age – the state/society should run like clockwork – like a machine – but humans can be messy.
100 mph – the company/business.
90 mph – nongovernmental grassroots organizations.
60 mph – the American family – work shifted from home to factory, education was outsourced, health care moved to doctor/hospital. Corporations are outsourcing functions – the American family is insourcing them. Work-at-home, shop-at-home, invest-at-home…
30 mph – labor unions
20 mph – Government bureaucracies and regulating agencies
10 mph – the American school system – created as a factor – methods no longer work
5 mph – Intergovernmental organizations – IMF, WTO, UN.
3 mph – Political structures in rich countries – Congress, White House
1 mph – the law (both court system/laywers and the body of law)
Chapter 6: The Synchronization Industry
First Wave/Agrarian – seasonal time
Second Wave/Industrial – timeclock
Third Wave – ‘real time’
Breakup of monolithic corporations into project teams.
Perfect synchronization makes systems inflexible and slow to innovate.
1985 – the West wakes up to kanban – ‘just in time’ – the US was still doing mainfram-based scheduling/warehousing.
1990 – JIT spreads through US industry
Next fad was ‘re-engineering’
Synchronization affects first- and second- and third-tier suppliers all the way down the supply chain.
Chapter 7: The Arrythmic Economy
Ecology of time + innovations + instant gratification + competition.
Time becomes a weapon when various business units and teams de-sync and scheduled get revised and power and egos come into play.
People hate to be speeded up or slowed down by others.
Example: contractor who builds houses – 4% of the cost of a house is made up of delays in supply chain/low quality materials.
Editor of Armed Forces Journal Int’l: “Faced with a twenty-year threat, government responds with a fifteen-year program in a five-year defense plan, managed by three-year personnel and funded with single-year appropriations.”
Example: Japans ATMS used to close at 5pm – banks out of sync with commerce. Shopping hours = banking hours.
Chapter 8: The New Timescape
First wave/agrarian: no such thing as a wage – serfs/farmers kept a bit of what they produced. Work time didn’t equal money. 14th Cent: Selling work for time just as bad as usury (interest)>
Second wave/industrial: fossil fuels, factories, clocks, watches leads to tighter time measuring – piecework. The pricing of labor and the pricing of money became increasingly based on time.
Third wave: time/distance don’t mean much, speed-dating, instant stock stats, currency traders can find out about a trade within milliseconds of its completion.
In this wealth system knowledge – the raw material – can move at nearly real-time speed.
Second Wave/industrial: officed matched factories with metronomic schedules – so did schools. Schoolbuses prep us for commutes, schoolbells prepare us for the factory.
Shift from impersonal to personal time – along with personalized products and markets.
Wage labor can no longer be taken for granted.
Akio Morita – late cofounder of Sony: “I cna tell a factory worker to show up at seven a.m. and be productive. But can I tell an engineer or researcher to have a good idea at seven?”
Media time – television dictates schedules for some but the audience wants to make their own schedules.
“Appointment-based television is dead.”
Tivo, iPod – Time-shifting – yadda yadda.
Europe remains slower – resisting ‘Americanization’ – things move faster in Tokyo, Seoul and Shanghai than in Paris, London and Berlin.
Intermitten flow => continuous flow.
’24 Hour Street’ in Curitibia, Brazil where an entire district of always-open businesses is opening.
Time is more important but exact punctuality matters less.
Part IV: Stretching Space
Chapter 9: The Great Circle
1980s – China legitimizes pursuit of wealth (in face of traditional Communist views).
2003 – China, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, India have combined GDP $3 trillion greater than the entire 25 member EU or the US.
Chapter 10: Higher-Value Added Places
China’s regions move as sem-autonomous, self-governing economic region-states.
Serial outsourcing – jobs moved from the US to Mexico to China.
Some say this is a race to the bottom but the higher up the skill ladder one goes ina knowledge-based economy, the less valid this becomes.
Shipping matters less as products become smaller and lighter – proximity no longer needed.
Countries/cities no want to attract the brightest most creative workforce possible.
Chapter 11: Spatial Reach
First wave/agrarian: peasants moved mostly within 15 miles of a region their whole lives.
Money gets mobile as currencies ‘invade’ economies and become de factor standards – ‘dollarization.’
Chapter 12: An Unready World
Globalization was well on it’s way in the 1900s then WWI happened – we are experiencing a re-globalization.
Drug trade – $400 billion global business – 8% of the world’s economy. Sex trade similarly global and networked.
No level playing field (sorry Friedman).
Globalization’s evils have more to do with corruption, environmental degradation and brute enforcement than with economic integration.
Chapter 13: Thust Reversers
Washington Consensus – globalization was supposed to create democracy and a better world for all through privatization, deregulation and free trade.
Anarcho-localists pine for the good old days – forgetting lack of privacy, sexism and bigotry of real villages.
‘Financial contagion’ – economies interlinked.
US markets have circuit breakers – example: the NYSE calls a 1-hour halt if Dow Jones falls 10% before 2pm.
Oil-funded governments coudl be forced to cut domestic subsidies and social benefits at the risk of triggering social unrest.
Chapter 14: The Space Drive
Space exploration has created an entire extra infrastructure for business/life.
Weather futures – 1/7th of the US economy subject to weather risk.
*** new version of GPS can place objects within 3.9 inches horizontal and 7.9 inches vertical.
Every dollar invested in NASA brings 9 dollars to GDP.
Future satellites no bigger than credit card.






3 responses to “Revolutionary Wealth by Alvin and Heidi Toffler, Chapters 1-13”

  1. Bob Walsh Avatar

    Hey Andy,
    Good punchlist of points, but keep in mind that the book was twelve years in the making, due to the long illness and passing away of the Toffler’s only daughter.
    One can only hope the next book is soon!

  2. Andy Wibbels Avatar

    Right – yes – that might explain why much of the book seems more ‘this is happening now’ than ‘this will happen.’ Still I find it pretty fascinating.

  3. Skorsky Avatar

    I was so effected by Toffler book Third Wave that I started a blog about it. Check it out
    I still can’t figure out if Toffler is for or against globalization. In TW he seems to say “it’s only second wave type integration” and then he has many good things to say about NAFTA. What do you think?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *