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The Gig Economy

CC photo via https://www.flickr.com/photos/alper/18194781702

CC photo via https://www.flickr.com/photos/alper/18194781702

“Gig economy” refers to a situation where people are working freelance as independent contractors by piecing together on-demand work opportunities, instead of holding down jobs as full-time staff. Most of these workers (with a few exceptions like Shyp) will get a 1099 form from their employers when it’s tax time instead of a W2.

The “gig economy,” the “on-demand economy,” the “sharing economy,” the “coordination economy,” the “digital matching economy”—whatever term we use, there’s a lot of talk about rapid technology-enabled changes in the nature of work.

These jobs are usually brought together by online technologies such as TaskRabbit, UpWorkUber, Airbnb, Etsy, Postmates and Washio.

As IFTF notes, “We are living in an increasingly connected world, with incredible new tools and opportunities, commerce transacted on digital platforms and many of us dependent on the labor of a fragmented and transitory workforce.”

In July 2015 the U. S. Department of Labor hosted a forum Imaging a Bright Future of Work. IFTF challenged DOL with “its belief that the media and the policy community are having the wrong conversation about technology platforms and the future of work — a binary conversation that asks whether innovations are right or wrong, good or bad (as if we could put this genie back in the bottle!). Instead, they believe we need to focus on shaping these platforms now, to design alternatives that will better align platform owners’ incentives with workers’ interests.”

“Technology empowers consumers both to find the services they need and to make more responsible choices. Technology empowers workers to have greater connection and voice.”

With another point of view, Vlad Chiktuc warns about the moral bankruptcy a new brand of technologically-enhanced minimalism in Silicon Valley based on outsourcing – “building a simple life on the backs of sweatshop laborers and the unregulated sharing economy.” Avi Asher-Schapiro further insists that sharing economy companies like Uber shift risk from corporations to workers, weaken labor protections, and drive down wages.

The issue is already a topic of the 2016 Presidential election. We probably will not get meaningful dialogue from this, but it will open a needed conversation.