It used to be mostly musicians who could say, "Hey, I got a gig." Now millions are saying it:
The archetypal worker in an advanced economy used to be a man on a production line or a salaryman in a city office — a secure, yet repressed, cog in a machine. “A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many/I had not thought death had undone so many,” wrote T.S. Eliot in The Wasteland, who once worked at Lloyds Bank.
There are still millions of these, including many women, but the new world of work is both more exciting and less secure. There is greater variety, in both pay and conditions. A job is more likely to be part-time, temporary, freelance or self-employed. It may not be a job at all, in the way it used to be defined.
Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate, lamented in a recent campaign speech the weakening of the US employment bargain that “built the greatest economy and the strongest middle class the world has ever known” — that “if you work hard and do your part, you should be able to get ahead”. As she observed, the “gig economy”, the growth of online platforms such as Airbnb and Uber on which people buy and sell services and jobs, “is creating exciting economies and unleashing innovation, but it is also raising hard questions about workplace protections and what a good job will look like in future”.
Scott Rasmussin has written some good columns about this phenomenon, which he calls the "sharing economy" rather than the "gig economy." In the latest one, which we ran on the editorial page Tuesday, he explains why liberal politicians like Hillary Clinton and Bill de Blasio loathe and fear this new reality:
Uber is offering better service at lower prices than the heavily regulated taxi cabs. Not only that, but the ride-sharing company is providing more service to minority and low-income neighborhoods typically overlooked by the yellow cabs. A mayor truly concerned with the public interest would hail the benefits of competition and free the taxis to compete with Uber.
In that case, customers would provide the regulation. They would determine who offers the best combination of service and price. Uber customers can even rate their drivers, which is a far stricter level of regulation than any government bureaucrat will provide.
The only problem with such an approach is that there's no role for the politicians. No reason for them to get involved and solicit campaign contributions or jobs for their friends.
[. . .]
From the beginning, the Internet has been cutting out middlemen in industry after industry. Now, the sharing economy is highlighting the fact that politicians act as middlemen trying to broker deals for their own self-interest.
The sharing economy is also showing that consumers don't need such middlemen.
In Fort Wayne, the news is that Yellow Cab, Fort Wayne's largest taxi service, is in danger of having its permit revoked because of an insurance issue. Once upon a time, that would have beena big deal for a lot of people. Now, that Uber is in town, not so much. And I remember writing editorials of praise several years ago when the City Council went a long way toward dergulating cabs in Fort Wayne, to almost the point where anybody with a car could call it a taxi and start offering services. Uber goes one step beyond that to a true market-based system, no government interference required, thank you very much.
One of the middlemen being squezzed out by the sharing economy, alas, is the collector of news to be sent out to a mass audience. When everybody is a potential journalist as well as news consumer, there is less perceived need for the gatekeeper who gets to decide which news is important and which isn't. The outrage the social justice warriors are able to gin up through social media is one example of people deciding for themselves what's important. Too many journalists are standing on the sidelines with de Blasio and Clinton going, "Whaaa? I don't know what's going on here, but just stop it!" Nuh-uh. No force on earth will stop it.