Work

Uber model may point to work’s future

Farhad Manjoo writes abut the ‘uberization’ of work, referring to the introduction of new technology in various fields, just like Uber did.  Uberization will have its benefits: Technology could make your work life more flexible, allowing you to fit your job, or perhaps multiple jobs, around your schedule. Even during a time of renewed job growth, Americans’ wages are stubbornly stagnant, and the on-demand economy may provide novel streams of income.The complication, here, though, is that most taxi drivers are also independent contractors, so the arrangement isn’t particularly novel in the ride business. The larger worry about on-demand jobs is not about benefits but about a lack of agency: a future in which computers, not humans, determine what you do, when and for how much. The author concludes by saying that the on-demand economy may be better than the alternative of software automating all our work, but that isn’t necessarily much of a cause for celebration

Read an excerpt of the article written by Farhad Manjoo:

As Uber has grown to become one of the world’s most valuable start-ups, its ambitions often seem limitless. But of all the ways that Uber could change the world, the most far-reaching may be found closest at hand: your office. Uber, and more broadly the app-driven labor market it represents, are at the center of what could be a sea change in work, and in how people think about their jobs. You may not be contemplating becoming an Uber driver any time soon, but the Uberization of work may soon be coming to your chosen profession. Just as Uber is doing for taxis, new technologies have the potential to chop up a broad array of traditional jobs into discrete tasks that can be assigned to people just when they’re needed, with wages set by a dynamic measurement of supply and demand, and every worker’s performance constantly tracked, reviewed and subject to the sometimes harsh light of customer satisfaction. Uber and its ride-sharing competitors, including Lyft and Sidecar, are the boldest examples of this breed, which many in the tech industry see as a new kind of start-up — one whose primary mission is to efficiently allocate human beings and their possessions, rather than information. ‘‘I do think we are defining a new category of work that isn’t full-time employment but is not running your own business either,’’ said Arun Sundararajan, a professor at New York University’s business school who has studied the rise of the so-called on-demand economy and who is mainly optimistic about its prospects. Uberization will have its benefits: Technology could make your work life more flexible, allowing you to fit your job, or perhaps multiple jobs, around your schedule. Even during a time of renewed job growth, Americans’ wages are stubbornly stagnant, and the on-demand economy may provide novel streams of income. ‘‘We may end up with a future in which a fraction of the work force would do a portfolio of things to generate an income — you could be an Uber driver, an Instacart shopper, an Airbnb host and a Taskrabbit,’’ Dr. Sundararajan said. But the rise of such work could also make your income less predictable and your long-term employment less secure. And it may relegate the idea of establishing a lifelong career to a distant memory. ‘‘I think it’s nonsense, utter nonsense,’’ said Robert B. Reich, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, who was a labor secretary in the Clinton administration. ‘‘This on-demand economy means a work life that is unpredictable, doesn’t pay very well and is terribly insecure.’’ After interviewing many workers in the on-demand world, Dr. Reich said he had concluded that ‘‘most would much rather have good, well-paying, regular jobs.’’ It is true that many of these start-ups are creating new opportunities for employment, which is a novel trend in tech, especially during an era in which we’re all fretting about robots stealing our jobs. Proponents of on-demand work point out that many of the tech giants that sprang up over the last decade minted billions in profits without hiring very many people; Facebook, for instance, serves more than a billion users, but employs only a few thousand highly skilled workers, most of them in California. To make the case that it is creating lots of new jobs, Uber recently provided some of its data on ridership to Alan B. Krueger, an economist at Princeton and a former chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers. Unsurprisingly, Dr. Krueger’s report, which he said he was allowed to produce without interference from Uber, paints Uber as a force for good in the labor market. ...read more