Here are some collected thoughts on the changing nature of work and shifting wealth creation.
Platform capitalism is beginning to define the economy for the second Gilded Age we seem to be entering. It requires 4 contributing factors, which when combined, create a perfect opportunity for the ‘uberization’ of almost any industry.
- A platform: a mobile application delivered through an oligopoly like iTunes or Google Play.
- A critical mass of users: upwardly mobile knowledge workers, especially those in Silicon Valley or the tech sector.
- Desperate service providers: people with no ability to organize due to weak or non-existing trade unions in their field, who see opportunities for better cash flow.
- Lack of regulations and oversight: bureaucracies that either cannot keep up with technology advances, or political leadership that condones poor working conditions in the name of progress.
Platform capitalism is the ability of a common internet exchange medium to enable easy commercial transactions. Buyers of services get convenience, while sellers get a larger market. The spoils go to the owner of the platform, receiving a percentage of revenues. Most of these platforms are created when regulations and oligopolies make these transactions difficult by traditional means. Platform capitalism initially disrupts a sector that is poorly served.
The emerging economy of platform capitalism includes companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Apple. These giants combined do not employ as many people as General Motors did. But the money accrued by them is enormous and remains in a few hands. The rest of the labour market has to find ways to cobble together a living income. Hence we see many people willing to drive for a company like Über in order to increase cash-flow. But drivers for Über have no career track. The platform gets richer, but the drivers are limited by time. They can only drive so many hours per day, and without benefits.
Consider open source software versus software as a service. If you do not own the software, you do not really own your data, as they are usually useless without the software to use them effectively. The same can apply to labour. If the workers do not own the platform that provides the work, then they may be of little economic value without it. Über is an excellent example of platform capitalism that turns labour into an easily replaceable commodity. Some day that labour may even be automated, eliminating the need for drivers.
The job is a social construct that has outlived its usefulness. Freelancing may be a replacement but often lacks a safety net, and many of the self-employed become the pawns of the platform capitalists. In the next five years, many professionals will have to change not only who they work for, but what they do. Are they prepared? We are entering a post-job economy. Our careers will be shorter as our lives get longer. Companies and institutions are no longer the stable source of employment they once were. The structures we create now to shift society to a post-job economy will determine how much turmoil the transition will create. Now is the time to construct better ways to distribute the wealth of the network era.
Changing How We Work
- If those who are educated, knowledgeable, and experienced do not push for a better world of work, then who will?
- An effective knowledge network cultivates the diversity and autonomy of each worker.
- Knowledge networks function best when each person can choose with whom and when they connect.
- Solving problems together is becoming the real business challenge.
Thank-you for your extensive post on the ‘gigging culture’ of the new economy. You have highlighted a vast and troubling series of problems and challenges that are facing the vast majority of employees, trapped as they are by outdated institutions, governments, and economic structures.
While we can’t easily go back, we need to move forward with an understanding that what has been created, may lead to our demise. I do believe that income inequality, and the loss of opportunities for the vast majority, will create problems sooner rather than later. We must endure a complete rebuild of how we shall then live, with a greater level of fairness and opportunity. Whether it’s through taxation, societal realignment, or new structures such as a guaranteed annual income, some will need to be done to make it possible for all to live. You may not always get what you want, as the Rolling Stones sang, but you should be able to get what you need.