The structure of the economy will have a huge impact on the society of the future
Uber, and the larger gig economy, seem to be the first iteration of a possible future of work where jobs are passé and we do work in shorter increments. For this kind of society to function, there would have to be a basic income to provide us with a degree of financial stability, so we’re not all scraping by and self-exploiting in a quest to do enough gigs to survive.
A big debate, going forward, is what the new marketplaces for our labour time will look like. The current iteration, the gig economy, is the capitalist attempt to build a framework for this kind of atomized labour market. Its structure takes inspiration from the traditional capitalist model, where a small few own and benefit from the enterprises, while the wages and benefits of the workers (who have no say in the operation of the marketplace on which their livelihoods depend) have constant downward pressure forced upon them by the unending and immoral profit motive. The gig economy arguably achieves a dream capitalists have had for decades, if not longer. Instead of having to abide by the labour laws that have built up over the last century, workers in the gig economy are “entrepreneurs”, which actually means the platforms on which they sell their labour time make them entirely responsible for the risks of doing business, while denying them the protections of traditional workers. This is a massive shift, but one that will become only more common as we move away from the twentieth century idea of stable life-long careers to one where technology forces a shift to temporary and precarious work. The era of benefits being tied to an employer is coming to an end, and our governments will have to shift to universal benefits (like the basic income and universal health care) instead of relying on those that are linked to jobs.
However, if the capitalist firm has a lesser role in the delivery of services in the future, there should be an even better case for structural reforms in the way businesses operate, if not how the whole economy functions. With the ongoing evolution in the world of work, pushed by technological change and automation, it’s essential that we take a close look at what kind of economy will ensure the benefits of those changes are widely distributed, instead of further consolidating into a shrinking number of elite hands.
Those in power have benefited from the oligopolistic practices of multinational firms. While free trade and competition have become the buzzwords of the neoliberal project, the actual structures pursued by those in power has ensured the exact opposite has become reality. Instead of promoting free trade, they’ve rigged the rules in favour of market incumbents and the largest corporations, making it tough for new players to gain a foothold. This has also had the effect of reducing competition, as the big players are constantly buying up the small companies that emerge in their industries, even overseeing the consolidation of oligopolies into full monopolies. These structural changes in the economy have only served the elite, giving them more power and control, and if this kind of economic organization continues while work becomes more fragmented, the suffering of the masses will only intensify.
An idea that we should pursue for a new form of economic organization is that which Mason proposes in the quote that inspired this post, and much more broadly in his book Postcapitalism. Where monopolies are to exist, they should be publicly-controlled, so their earnings can be put to work to benefit the whole of society (in the form of a basic income and other universal benefits) instead of hoarded by the 0.01%. But not all industries will be monopolies, and where there is to be competition, the structure of those markets should be built in a way that levels the playing field, or is even developed in such that small enterprises are empowered.
A publicly-owned Uber would be an example of this, as it would create a marketplace with equal access, and any profits that come from its operation would go back into the development and enrichment of the larger community. Another example would be a publicly-owned smart grid that allows anyone to connect their own small-scale renewable energy, essentially democratizing the energy infrastructure instead of leaving energy generation to a small number of megacompanies.
Our world is changing rapidly, and we have a collective choice to make. Will we continue to let the rich get richer and gain even greater control over the structure of our societies, or will we force a change in the distribution of wealth and power, lift everyone from the trap of poverty, and build a world that puts people before the pursuit of profit? We’re on the path to the former, but if we choose the latter, we need to act now before it’s too late.
Paris Marx writes about the growing divide within the capitalist system, the movements for alternative forms of economic organization, and ways of living that challenge traditional narratives. He occasionally makes videos on YouTube, and is very active in sharing news and opinions on Twitter.
Want to know what this might look like if applied to the music industry? Read my manifesto for an independent music industry free of label exploitation:
How label exploitation is causing a backlash against the corporate music industry, and how we can support small artists…medium.com
(Note: It’ll take about 45 minutes.)