We’re getting screwed. We’re getting screwed and it’s dressed up as convenient and fitting in with our lifestyle. We’re getting screwed and it’s so that those with power and money can entrench their power and money while at the same time reduce protections, stability and security for those actually doing the work.
It’s called the “gig economy”, a name to make it sound cool and accessible. “Hey man, want to work for yourself? You don’t have to answer to the man anymore! You just work when you want to and don’t when you don’t.”
Except you also get paid less, you have no worker safety-nets and the workers are doing more and more work for somebody else who does very little but still takes ridiculous amounts of money.
The world’s largest taxi company is Uber. It owns no vehicles. The largest hotel chain is Airbnb, it has no hotels. Largest retailer? Alibaba. It has no stock. Despite these companies owning very little of anything tangible they receive inconceivable amounts of revenue. While the people who do the work – the Uber driver, the Airbnb host – those people are seldom able to live on just that income alone.
There are websites where I can put up a piece of work that I want done and then individuals “bid” on that work, offering me that piece of work for a fixed cost. All this does is create a race to the bottom in terms of what people get paid.
Nearly every service in the “gig economy” offers nothing more than what already exists, but allows some Silicon Valley jerk to clip the ticket while taking zero responsibility.
This is such a misunderstanding of the gig economy, I can’t let it pass.
Let’s look at some of these companies or sites that Cormack sees as offering nothing more than what existed. We’ll look at Uber, Airbnb, Trade Me (our Alibaba) and Builders Crack.
Uber. Customer service before Uber was crap. You couldn’t call a cab through an app. You had no idea if the cab was actually coming or not. You didn’t know which cab was picking you up. You had no idea of the fare. You had no idea of when it would arrive. You had to wait for a call to be answered and hope they got the address right.
Uber improved the customer experience massively. That is why tens of millions use it. Not because it is cheaper. But because it is better. And you get better drivers also as Uber allows you to effortlessly give feedback.
But Uber wasn’t just better for customers. It allowed hundreds of thousands of people to start making money by driving passengers about. In most cities or countries you had to pay shitloads of money to become a taxi driver and you had to work the hours set by a taxi company in the area they assign you to etc. Uber allowed people to earn revenue from their car whether it would be 5 hours a week or 50.
Now AirBnB. Finding a holiday home to stay at previously was a nightmare. You’d have to go to four different websites and search them all. Each site had different search features and criteria. Worse of all most of them didn’t tell you if a place was available so you had to fire off dozens of e-mails. And you couldn’t pay a deposit through them, so couldn’t get an immediate confirmed booking.
AirBnB changed that. They were so successful everyone listed with them. They provided you with much better info on the holiday homes but best of all allowed you to see dates they could be booked and book it online. No more dozens of e-mails. And you could set criteria such as a room in a house or a whole house to yourself.
And for house owners, it has been great also. I stayed at an AirBnB last weekend. It has in fact been a holiday home for rent since 1977. The current owner has owned it for 20 years. I asked if he listed on other sites. He said no. He found the quality of “tenants” through Air BnB much better because of course both owner and tenant can give feedback for ratings which incentivises both sides.
Now Trade Me, our Alibaba. Do I even need to argue it has added value. Who doesn’t use it to buy and sell stuff. We got so many great second hand baby clothes through it. It has saved us thousand of dollars, and also allowed us to easily sell stuff we no longer want.
And Dave Cormack also complained about sites where you can put up work to be done, and people bid to do it. Well one such site is Builders Crack. You describe the job you need doing, and builders tender to do it. You may go with the cheapest, or like me, you also look at their ratings for quality etc. Where once choosing a builder was near blind luck or work of mouth, you can now easily see customer satisfaction and get a reasonable price.
And the builders seem to like it also. For many it is a great source of new customers, who become repeat customers if they do a good job.
Historically you could get a job that would pay you a salary so you have the security of knowing how much you would get every fortnight or month, and that you’d continue to get paid if you fell ill, or wanted a holiday.
And this is Cormack’s real problem with the gig economy. It’s different to how things have been done the last 100 years. But he ignores the massive benefits to both customers and “suppliers” from the gig economy. It has allowed people to succeed, to earn more money, to grow their business, to earn more money.
Sure it doesn’t work for everyone, but painting companies such as Trade Me, Uber and AirBnB as offering nothing beyond what traditionally existed is about as wrong as you can get.