The Gig Economy: Problems And Opportunities (Part I)
Let’s talk about the gig economy. It’s a boon for some people, a curse for others. Over time, it’s going to change how everything works. This can be good for you (if you read this article) or a complete disaster.
There are massive and inherent problems in the idea of a gig economy, which I’ll briefly point out. That said, it’s massively above my paygrade to talk about it in depth so don’t expect deep economic analysis.
My point with the whole thing is this: Where there are problems, there are multiple opportunities.
Note: The first couple of sections are a little political and hyperbolic. That’s by design and it’s to frame the solutions. I don’t care about multinational corporations or politics. I’m not a pinko-communist or a hyper-capitalist. As a recommendation, I suggest you avoid being either as well, but I’m not your Mum.
The Two Major Problems With The Gig Economy And How The Two Of Them Together Are Going To Ruin Everything
There are hundreds of issues with the gig economy. Most people, when talking about said problems, are concerned mostly with the fact they’ve been kicked off Upwork or that their car is too rusty for Uber or whatever.
Those are things you can fix by hook or by crook.
There are, however, massive meta-issues that’ll stem from widespread adoption of the gig economy. It’s not going to replace traditional work in any way favourable to the people who are actually doing the work. There are two major issues that I’ll briefly summarise, and then stick together to reveal the full horror that we’re all living in the midst of.
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There Are No Guaranteed Hours, No Security And You’re Basically The 21st Century Equivalent Of A Pirate Or Merchant Sailor Hoping You’ll Strike It Rich
Consumers are by far and away the winners in the gig economy. Free Prime shipping? Fantastic. An Uber that picks you up and charges £10 instead of the £40 you’d pay for a taxi? Brilliant.
If you’re spending money, then the gig economy is amazing. Stuff is cheap and you have no obligations to pay anyone’s salary.
There’s the major issue with it…the consumer no longer pays a salary. Or for the regulatory, bureaucratic structure behind any service. Which is great for the cost of items, but in a wider sense, will make some of the existing issues in the West (and everywhere else) more prominent as time goes on.
Like pensions and healthcare.
Let’s step away from the meta-issues and talk directly to freelancers.
Freelance platforms do not have your back. They aren’t going to sacrifice their customer base for the freelance provider. I have never heard of any of the big platforms being reluctant to get rid of a content/business provider at the expense of customers in any tangible sense.
It is what it is.
These platforms aren’t ever going to give you minimum wage or pay your pensions. There are politicians and lobbying bodies who seek to force these companies to do that sort of thing, but those same lobbying bodies can’t actually get companies like Amazon or Google to pay tax, let alone chase random-freelance-developer-site-#664-based out of who knows where – to make sure you get your $8 that some Russian dude has issued a chargeback for.
Not going to happen. Here’s why.
The Platforms Are NOT Your Buddy – They Are Totalitarian Nightmares Designed To Skim Off The Top And Vampirically Suck All The Profits From The Peasants (That’s You)
The founder of Amazon is famed for saying, “Your margin is my opportunity.”
When politicians and big business people talk about the gig economy, that’s what they’re talking about. The same as zero-hour contracts, (in the UK – I don’t know about globally) the idea behind these start-ups isn’t to give the stay-at-home mum a chance to earn £20 here and there for delivering for Amazon.
The goal is to outcompete old business models by outsourcing work and saving overhead, with the purpose of destroying the competition. After that… it’s game over. Take a trip to more rural areas and see how the high street stores are doing.
Now, you might think, “Who cares?”
Everyone will eventually. But this isn’t a politics website and we’re not in the business of worrying about what the politicians and hedge fund managers are up to.
Let’s talk about the solutions and opportunities.
Where There Is A Problem, There Are Multiple Solutions
Alright, I ranted too much and I’ve run out of time. So I’ll get to this in a short and sweet manner
I’ll expand on these things over time, but here’s a starter list of how you should approach the changing broad-strokes of the economy on a narrow scale.
- Never rely on someone else’s platform
- Use other people’s platforms to draw attention to your own
- Build your own platforms, everywhere
- Build platforms for other people
- Decentralisation Is The Best Way To Fix Everything
- Buy local, buy small, create communities through buying patterns
- Wherever there is a margin, there is an opportunity.
- As “gig economy” sites become monolithic, their margin is your opportunity
- Don’t feel bad about swiping customers from Uber and negotiating with them off-site, despite what the TOC say
- Be smart about the above; you’re a pirate evading the navy.
- There are tons of opportunities and most of history will show you the way.
- Cost of products is only one part of the equation
- Litigation and the law will swing back around, but it’s too slow to help you or hinder you
- Don’t rely on the rules or the environment being the same in a few months’ time, because it won’t.
I realise I’m getting somewhat vague with some of these ideas, but we’ll talk about them in depth later in subsequent articles. For now though, the key takeaways are as follows.
You can’t rely on society’s big machinery to help you. Regardless of the morality, politics and ideologies, to do so is foolish.
What you can do is observe the scenery, build your own little empire and constantly react to the bigger picture as and when you need to.
The “gig economy” is a big machinery term. It’s comprised of big, mean venture capitalists who want to suck value out of freelancers and as a freelancer or small business person, the challenge for this generation is to use that big machinery without letting it crush you.
P.S. As you can probably tell, this is first-draft thoughts and I’m working on practical tips. Thoughts and challenges welcome.