About a week ago, this tweet showed up in my stream and summarized everything that is worng with our current economy:
Here’s what happened next:
And after that?
That’s because when anyone has to actually sit down and think about it, the Gig Economy is only good for investors with a lot of money who can afford to dump a start-up when it doesn’t turn out to be the “get rich quick” scheme they thought it was.
The idea that some guy in his 20s is going to want to become a journeyman tech worker indefinitely is unrealistic. No one wants to live in a micro apartment forever. If you want a spouse and kids and a house, you can not do it if you are constantly looking for your next job that might be in another city where your spouse might not be able to find work or have to leave their own career behind. You can’t drag kids from one insecure gig to another and keep them in school without facing significant consequences down the road. (Take if from a Navy brat who still has problems with simple arithmetic. Thank god for calculators.)
Other things you can’t do in the Gig Economy as a tech worker: It’s hard to justify owning a house.How can you reasonably apply for a 30 yr mortgage if you don’t know when or where you’ll be working? It’s hard to save for retirement. Even if you are paid well, and some Accenture people I know are paid very well, you need to keep a significant chunk of liquid assets in case you’re laid off for extended periods of time. It used to be 6 months of salary. I’d say the actual amount is closer to two years. You just never know.
And add to that the stress of always shopping for a new job, updating your LinkedIn profile, networking, paying thousands of dollars for meaningless certifications, never getting enough experience or getting experience and then having to leave it all behind when the contract runs out.
IT IS THE STUPIDEST WAY TO RUN AN ECONOMY.
Yeah, if you’re an entrepreneur and you have a flexible morality that allows you to take advantage of “ease of migration” and “fluid labor laws” while benefitting from the “rule of law” and other nice infrastructure that everyone else pays for with their taxes, then it’s a sweeeeet deal. Good for Marc Andreeson! I used to admire the team who came up with Mosaic, the first browser I ever wrote HTML pages for back in 1995. But he is symptomatic of many people who think that just because this economy is working swell for him that we can all jump on the “I wanna be a rich entrepreneur!” bandwagon.
As I’ve pointed out before, biopharma R&D is a team sport, a collaborative activity where the credit is spread among many people. It does not adapt well to a start up economy where there are promises of fabulous riches made to a select few people of “talent”. Sure , there will be exceptions but what Marc will never know is how many cures did not get made because the research was not sexy enough to get the funding it needed.
And don’t even get me started about the companies and universities that make you sign over your patent rights as a condition of employment. When we were all in corporate labs with mostly stable jobs and a decent standard of living, we didn’t think twice about it. The company paid for the capital and overhead, we gave them a patent. It was fair. Now, all the risk is born by the researcher and they can’t keep their intellectual property.
Anyway, I won’t go on and on about it because you’ve heard it all before. My point is that as much as the candidates talk about retraining and having the work force catch up with technology, they seem to be ignoring the fact that there are millions of highly trained tech and R&D workers with all of the tech skills a company could want who are forced into lives that are pretty similar to migrant labor. Sure, the pay might be good for short periods of time but stretch that out over 40 years of a typical worker’s life and it’s a bad deal. There is so much uncertainty that it is going to have, and is currently having, a significant impact on the economy going forward.
We need to do something about those fluid labor laws where it is easy to lay people off for no good reason at any time, and we need to give foreign workers green cards when they are hired here so that their lives are not subject to the whims of vulture capitalism. If we really, really need highly educated foreign born citizens, then they are valuable enough to treat them as human beings, decently, with an opportunity to find other jobs if they are laid off due to no fault of their own.
Which one of our candidates is getting a clue?
I submit to you two recent interviews that Hillary has given recently. One is with Ezra Klein where they talked about policy. When I heard this, I could swear she’s been reading this blog for the last several years. She uses the words like “churn” to refer to the practice of large corporations to be perpetually overturning their work force every couple of years.
The other is the interview she gave to Charlie Rose last week where she says that “income insecurity” is a big problem. If she really means it, she will also have to acknowledge that profit sharing does NOT lead to secure incomes. She’s going to have to go back and talk to the Andreesons and other Obama’s supporters and tell them that’s not going to cut it.
The best thing about these interviews besides her command of policy, her confidence and her passion, is that she seems to have really started to listen. America is not as dark and foreboding as Trump would make us believe. But all is not well in terms of the economy and work and no one believes the current administration’s rosy scenarios and PR team. That is where the anger is coming from. We get a steady stream of Pravda media and it isn’t squaring with our own lives. Politicians, and by that I mean Republicans and some student body president Democrats, can only pull this off for so long before the electorate throws them all out.
She’s getting it. Good. That’s what I want to hear.