Megan McArdle: No, the ‘Gig Economy’ Isn’t Dickensian

business_ethics_highlights_2“Gig economy” business models, like those of Uber and Airbnb, are challenging because they defy clear categories derived from observing 19th- and 20th-Century modes of organizing production. Even more challenging is that they undermine modes thought to be natural or normatively ideal. In this Bloomberg View opinion piece, Megan McArdle counters critics of the “gig economy” who see in it the re-emergence of the most objectionable features of Victorian era economic life. Does the “gig economy” create new economic activity or merely displace other economic activity? Does it exacerbate or alleviate the ills at the bottom of the labor market? >>>

LINK: Gig Economy Is Piecework. But This Isn’t Dickens. (by Megan McArdle for Bloomberg View)

Earlier I wrote about the way tech giants strive to ensure that they will own a piece of major emerging technology markets. Exhibit A: Amazon Flex, a newly announced service which will pay people $18-25 an hour to deliver packages in their own vehicles. If there’s going to be a sharing economy, then Amazon wants its share.

All this has Kevin Drum concerned: “It now seems as though the ‘sharing economy’ is any job that’s somehow related to a scheduling app and provides workers only with odd bits and pieces of work at the employer’s whim. In other words, sort of like manual laborers in the Victorian era, but with smartphones and better pay.” …

I confess, I’m not clear on what the problem is. Manual labor in the Victorian era was not primarily awful because it involved short-term contracts; it was awful because the jobs were grim, the pay was low, and injured workers frequently ended up destitute. Getting paid $25 an hour for doing something much more pleasant than scrubbing floors with caustic chemicals does not tug at my heartstrings in the same way.

What do you think?


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