Is The Sharing Economy Enslaving Or Liberating Mankind?

Umair Haque, the director of the Havas Media Lab, "which has a charter to develop experiments with venture capitalists, start-ups, and clients to find new ways of reaching consumers in digital channels," has written (in a personal blog apparently not related to Havas)  a provocative argument against the sharing economy, which he calls the Servitude Bubble.

Writes Haque, "The Servitude Bubble is creating 'jobs,' sure — but only of the lowest kind: low-end, deskilled, dead-end, go-nowhere 'service' jobs — that don’t only crush your soul, damage your psyche, and break your spirit — but waste your potential. Not 'service' as in doctors and therapists — 'service' as in pedicurists, trash-pickers, and dog-walkers. And so, on balance, it deskills and impoverishes human potential — it doesn’t expand and enrich it....We’re all a little worse off when society’s resources are misallocated on a vast scale to the Servitude Bubble — to creating armies of servants that can walk the dogs, paint the nails, and drive the cars of the coddled, carefree rich — instead of towards finding solutions to the very real, very urgent problems of education, healthcare, climate change, finance — to name just a few."

While you might argue that those who take on-call sharing economy jobs such as livery driving and dog walking are probably not skilled or motivated enough to find “solutions to the very real, very urgent problems of education, healthcare, climate change, finance," I suppose if you follow his logic that as this kind of "employment" continues to spread, by nature it will it suck not only humans away from the good fight, but also a fair amount of investment funds that he clearly thinks should be spent better elsewhere.

Haque also worries that the Servitude Bubble divides the world, further separating the haves from the have-nots, with only the haves really benefiting from on-call servitude. But one wonders if it is any different from the two arguments for and against migrant workers: the first, being they are doing jobs that Americans won't do for the same wages, vs. they are "stealing" jobs from Americans. Lots of farmers and manufacturers have said that they have tried to find "American" workers to hire, but that the work is too hard and the hours too long, so they hire those who either don't mind doing the work or who have no other alternative.

Perhaps the same can be said about the sharing economy: that it attracts those who prefer the flexibility of working on their own schedules (de facto meaning they don't want 9-5 employment) or have no other alternatives for income. If that be the case, then from their perspective the sharing economy is not such as bad thing. (Although there has been plenty of grumbling that the actual income doesn't come anywhere near the incomes promoted by the companies that hire them.)

Most of the drivers I have met seemed pretty happy with their on-call experience -- although to be fair, they seemed more stoked by the flexibility than the income. For many it is a second job providing additional income that helps them live a slightly higher standard of living. It is also fair to say that all of this is new enough for lots of on-call workers not to be dragged down by the sameness of it all and the lack of chances to advance within a more organized work structure.

I leave it you to decide if all of this is a net plus or minus for our society.

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