February 03, 2015


When Bloomberg was NYC's mayor, remember that first really bad snow when he took a lot of heat for not having the city clean it up? The year after that it snowed and I remember a much swifter response. The very next day, I was surprised to see an older woman shoveling snow on the city's crew. As in much older--probably well-past retirement age. I don't even own a shovel and am handier with Pan-stick than I am a dustpan, so I felt a little sorry for an older gal forced to do manual labor in freezing conditions. Our eyes met briefly and I f#cked her. Kidding! Our eyes did meet and I remember feeling a little sorry for her, until I realized that she was probably grateful for the one day of work. She was the grandmotherly type you'd expect to see snuggled up next to a pot of tea. For all I know, she could have been a former mafia queen who was just released from prison that day on a work program. Or someone who'd foolishly lost every cent of her retirement fund in a casino. But I doubt it. I think she represents the new American workforce: work harder for less money and retire when you die.

So this article from former Labor Secretary Robert Reich really caught my eye. I knew there was a reason that Uber made me uncomfortable. Because if you had a full time job that paid well, you'd have no time or interest in driving for Uber, which pays very little and offers no job security. And zero job satisfaction exact for the fact that you have a little work. It's a sinister undercurrent that Reich explains very well here:

Robert Reich:

How would you like to live in an economy where robots do everything that can be predictably programmed in advance, and almost all profits go to the robots' owners?

Meanwhile, human beings do the work that's unpredictable - odd jobs, on-call projects, fetching and fixing, driving and delivering, tiny tasks needed at any and all hours - and patch together barely enough to live on.

Brace yourself. This is the economy we're now barreling toward.

They're Uber drivers, Instacart shoppers, and Airbnb hosts. They include Taskrabbit jobbers, Upcounsel's on-demand attorneys, and Healthtap's on-line doctors.

The euphemism is the "share" economy. A more accurate term would be the "share-the-scraps" economy.

New software technologies are allowing almost any job to be divided up into discrete tasks that can be parceled out to workers when they're needed, with pay determined by demand for that particular job at that particular moment.

Customers and workers are matched online. Workers are rated on quality and reliability.

The big money goes to the corporations that own the software. The scraps go to the on-demand workers.

Consider Amazon's "Mechanical Turk." Amazon calls it "a marketplace for work that requires human intelligence."

In reality, it's an Internet job board offering minimal pay for mindlessly-boring bite-sized chores. Computers can't do them because they require some minimal judgment, so human beings do them for peanuts -- say, writing a product description, for $3; or choosing the best of several photographs, for 30 cents; or deciphering handwriting, for 50 cents.

Amazon takes a healthy cut of every transaction.

This is the logical culmination of a process that began thirty years ago when corporations began turning over full-time jobs to temporary workers, independent contractors, free-lancers, and consultants.

It was a way to shift risks and uncertainties onto the workers - work that might entail more hours than planned for, or was more stressful than expected.

And a way to circumvent labor laws that set minimal standards for wages, hours, and working conditions. And that enabled employees to join together to bargain for better pay and benefits.

The new on-demand work shifts risks entirely onto workers, and eliminates minimal standards completely.