Archives: Waves

I’ve started reading Revolutionary Wealth by Alvin and Heidi Toffler, and I’m finding it odd that I want to argue with this book even though I’m only three (very short) chapters into it.

So far what the book has essentially laid out is:

a) Wealth is neutral, not good or bad. It is created by desire. Desire is not the same as greed. Stigmatizing desire leads inevitably to poverty. Encouraging desire sometimes (not always) leads to wealth.

So far, no argument.

b) Human history has seen 3 Wealth Systems:
1) Agrarian
2) Industrial
3) Knowledge/service

From Chapter three:

“The First Wave wealth system was chiefly based on growing things, and the Second Wave on making things, the Third Wave wealth system is increasingly based on serving, thinking, knowing and experiencing.”

Notice the first two waves are to the point, and the third one is a pretty vague catch-all of verbs. Maybe the Third Wave, having only just started, isn’t really definable yet.

The Phantom Wave

But then, why decide there even is a Third Wave at all? The four characteristics he lists are all integral qualities to success in either of the two previous systems as well. Both the best farmers and the best industrialists utilize the virtues of service, thought, knowledge and experience in their creation of wealth. These are more or less generic qualities necessary to be good at anything.

I’m not sure I completely believe that there is a Knowledge Economy. Material wealth still needs to be produced. Successive waves don’t and can’t replace the previous ones. Since the beginning of being human at all, we’ve needed to eat and we’ve needed tools and devices. We’ve needed and made these things through both the First and Second Waves, and we still need them. The wealth systems we’ve used have all evolved one from another as we figure out ways to get more food and things to more and more people.

What new is being produced in the Third Wave? Nothing, it seems. It’s just a dramatic refinement of methods for storing and distributing the knowledge necessary to produce food and machines.

Sure, we live in rapidly changing times, but I’m not sure these changes are really all that revolutionary, nor am I convinced the past changes really amounted to revolutions.

I’m not a Luddite, I find the idea that we may be at the beginning of a dramatic shift in the wealth is created really exciting. I’m just not sure it’s really happening yet.

Maybe the rest of the book will be persuasive. This is only chapter three, after all.