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The gig economy is itself both toxic and liberating. Liberating for employer and employee alike in good times, toxic in bad. And the flaws are that the virtues are not taken quite far enough.

The nice thing about Uber is that people own their own means of making a living. That is a major shift from the employer-centric model where the employer owns the tools and facilities and both contractors and employees use these tools to the profit of the employer. With Uber, in theory at least, you are your own business with your own tools and you can take those tools elsewhere if you like.

I say “in theory at least” because every gig economy marketplace strives for lock-in and it strives to monetize the profits of the contractors. In other words, the liberation is not complete and the marketplace company has a hold on a chokepoint in interaction.

Thus in my view companies like Uber are really exciting to watch take off but largely because they carry within themselves the seeds of their own destruction. Uber would have real problems if they try to insist on non-competition. But that is their goal and their interest, so you have this delicate struggle between parties, which is far more delicate and balanced than you see in a standard setup.

But what happens when someone comes up with a driver-owned Uber alternative? Something like a trade guild? If the gig economy is to avoid its toxic potentials, we need the marketplaces to be cooperatively owned by the participants, not things that generate profits for shareholders.

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