Reinventing the wheel

… no, not progress, the opposite… What’s that called? Oh.

               I don’t know what I want, but I want it right now and for free! Well, if it’s not free, at least those selling it to me have to make no profits, because money is the root of all evil and all that. It’d be funny if it weren’t true, you know. History is a powerful tool to predict the future, it works really well only when nobody’s using it. You read that right, think about it.. I see many people falling heads over for new and futuristic concepts that aren’t new, at all. Futuristic? That may be stretching it. This is the glamorous “on-demand economy” that either enrages or mindgasms people, marketed as a “time-saving” novelty for consumers and flexible work experience for freelancers – and yet, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Why? Because progress ain’t fueled by altruism or happiness but by laziness and greed and you can bet your dirty nickers history’s about to repeat itself.

               You see, somebody’s found a way to reinvent the wheel – instead of the economy we’ve glimpsed in economics classes where you had supply and demand and supply was those selling goods and performing various services and demand was those paying for them, we’ve got now a new type, a hybrid stealth class/ tank who can hit you in your pockets while blaming either one of the former parties. It’s like another plane of existence, where you can get all the benefits and none of the responsibilities that plague the rest of the mortal world. It’s a bird. It’s a plane. No, it’s stupid and you’d know it if you’d only look farther than your own interests.

               A very nice article describes the various myths regarding on-demand economy, it’s surprisingly called “The Do It When I Want economy is here to stay” – and by now you already know what I think of it. It’s full of crap. All of it. And it assumes this is the face of the future – hint, it ain’t. Now, I’m getting weird messages from my alien mind-controllers telling me to explain it, so I’ll get started. You see, there may be some truth to this new and radical “on-demand economy” and that truth is called change. Mind-boggling it ain’t. Progress was always a byproduct of greed and laziness, after all, there’s a reason this “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” saying is that popular. If something works fine, people don’t go chasing the magic dragons in order to make things better, they go after the other broken things to fix and there’s an infinite number of those. But the lazy, they always look for shortcuts – and that’s how you make good things either broken or better. Oh, that and greed. That shit’s the cornerstone of progress – make it smaller, make it cheaper, make people need it. And yet, greed made the world better, when it didn’t make it worse. It improved working conditions, it improved the access to education, healthcare, it improved the quality of life. And yet, shit happens. Why? Because greed is also like a shotgun – it depends on who’s using it.

               There are always ways for those looking for work to find it – sometimes it’s really hard, sometimes it’s easy, and then there’s the odd scenario where somebody actually invented the classifieds. People advertising their skills for hire is not a new thing, even the chimney sweepers used to yell their offers. Newspapers have pages dedicated to this. Entire websites exist for this reason. So what’s wrong with it? Well… If you make a website linking workers and customers then you’re doing something good. Even if you charge money for access and quality by providing reviews and so on. But price setting? I mean, setting up a mandatory pay rate? Making payments go through your website instead of the worker? Advertising your services under your brand? Creating a system which forces the workers to accept all job offers because if they skip too many you give them time in the penalty box (reduced pay, or leave)? Well? If you control who works and how much, if you can penalize them and can force them to accept what you say is a fair price for their services, then they are your employees. End of story.. Or not.

               From the customer’s point of view, this on-demand economy works like a charm, it gives them control and shifts the balance of power from the supplier to the buyer. I can get what I want exactly when I want it – and I hold power over whoever provides that service (by review or feedback). Anybody see a problem here? No? Right, we’ll come back to it later, maybe, because everybody’s floating on cloud number 9. Ever wonder why everybody describes the workers as “people now contribute…” – it’s a scary thought. Like, really, really scary. It’s something people only use when they mean “free”, like the company’s potluck lunches where everybody “has to contribute” a dish of food. It’s a very quick way to disband teams and ruin friendships, I know. But that’s the point. You think 24/7 is a new concept? You think whatever services you can get at your convenience are groundbreaking and new? No. You could get taxi service, take-out food and whatever else you could think of before this. The only reason you couldn’t get a specific service at a specific time or location was, is and will be … drums rolling… profitability. Companies have to pay benefits, salaries, insurance and so on, they’re responsible for the safety of their employees (well, in most countries anyway) and if they are able but not willing to provide a service at a specific time or place is usually because it’s not profitable for them to do it long term. And now, there’s a new higher dimensional being to challenge the status-quo – the on-demand economy. It’s new, but not really, it’s innovative, but not really and it makes money for the people who need it – but not really. The only reason this crap exists is to make other people money. How? By exploiting workers who need the money and won’t fuss at working for less. And at this point, I really do mean “exploiting”. Here’s why…

               The people involved in this “on-demand, flexible work” fall into 3 specific subgroups: the desperate, the fussy and those caught mid-transition. The desperate need money and this may be the only legal way for them to make it work. The fussy pride themselves in working only when they want to work, being different, in sticking a thumb in the system’s collective eye, like hipsters only better. The ones caught mid-transition aren’t that desperate but some specific and usually temporary circumstances require them to work odd hours and can’t fit in the 9 to 5 standard jobs – either that or they need a supplemental income that can’t otherwise be found. Now you’d think the same rules that apply to companies also work here – and you’d be wrong. For an extra quid, most people would easily forego safety. They’d rather not pay for retirement, insurance or other “expenses” if they could help it. They’d rather not save money for rainy days, even if those rainy days include temporary disability, vacations, parental leave or aliens attacking, you name it. Companies providing the same services, especially where there’s laws they have to obey, can’t do that. That’s why freelancers have the advantage in price-setting because their costs are way lower. But there’s something most freelancers can’t do – big budget marketing. A company can do many times the amount of work a single freelancer can and they’re spending money for the customers to know that. Sure, if many people get together they could make it work better, but we tend to forget one wee little thing: natural entropy evolves any growing enterprise into either chaos or bureaucracy – in this case, if enough freelancers work together they’ll simply become a company in the end. If everybody’s working, who’s manning the phones? Who’s leading? And if I’m leading and not working, I should be compensated for it. What? Exactly. That’s why there’s comparatively few people freelancing as opposed to employed by others. Ironically, the laws companies have to obey were made in order to prevent them from exploiting workers, to give employees an increased quality of their working conditions – unless you don’t have any other choice or you’re paying for the same things (benefits, savings and so on) yourself, you’re actively shooting yourself in the foot. But there’s worse.

               A whole damn worse. I can’t tell yet if there’s a push from companies to relabel their employees as “on-demand” and therefore pay nothing in benefits or people are just idiots – but freelancing because you don’t want to work for somebody else while joining Uber or other crap like this, is really stupid. I mean, you don’t want to work for others who would pay for your health insurance, retirement, unemployment and so on because you want to be self-employed and then drive for Uber who makes money and is (maybe, I haven’t seen the public sheets but others supposedly have) only profitable because it pays you none of that, is really stupid. Even more, you’re working for them and you’re paying them for the privilege. And they get to say stuff like “we’re a technology company, not a taxi company” and point their fingers at their drivers if anything bad happens. Oh, and the customers love them – because they obviously aren’t a taxi company and they’re so hip and cool and whatever. Consumers love them because they’re brutally competitive and innovative… Really? Innovative? Love how you rebranded greed + sidestepping the laws. I believe the correct quote from the above linked article was “push against regulatory boundaries” which is exactly what it sounds like, in my opinion… Right.. I just facepalmed myself with a brick.

               Kids, there’s always going to be somebody who will take advantage of the weak minds, a Jedi, a Sith, a Madoff or similar – we just call them scammers, con men, morally bankrupt. That’s not innovative, we’ve had them way, way back, even before John Law made it cool. That’s why we have laws, to protect the weaker minds. And you buy into this, now? Hoo, boy, have I got a bridge to sell you…

               If you need money and that is the only reason you can’t demand better working conditions, you’re a captive employee and you can demand the law to protect you. If you need money and you’re a freelancer, you have nobody watching your back – you have to make enough money to help you across darker times. You have to make enough to hold you whenever you aren’t working, like going on vacations, sleeping, when you accidentally break your leg falling from your bed, and so on… You won’t have the privilege of choosing when you work or who you work for, you’ll be on-call 24/7 because you can’t afford to miss any opportunity to make money. You’ll be taking crap from everybody (because they can) and living in a constant state of fear and anxiety brought to you by bad reviews/feedback (even if your customer was a total nut). And you can’t dodge any of it. Not unless you’re the best at what you do and your customers actually know it. Low skilled workers, though, might find it hard to be the best there is at driving a taxi, sweeping the floors or delivering packages – so having those “ironic”, “stick-it-to-the-man” freelancers boast flexible working schedule as a perk of the on-demand economy must look to them like a doctor curing your headache with a hammer.

Though, I admit, it is ironic.

Post scriptum:

               I like to have control, to have my needs met on time and at a low price. I like knowing those who need jobs can find them easily. However, that isn’t and it shouldn’t be an “and/or” choice for most people. You shouldn’t choose between flexible schedule and basic labor rights. You shouldn’t change the laws to create opportunities for abuse – the laws should exist to protect people against abuse. Too much regulatory interference has the same obvious effects as none at all – either you find the middle ground or you have to choose between abuse and misery. No rules make a con-man’s utopia while too many rules raise barriers in front of a better life. Middle ground, anyone?

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