Gig Work

Today I found a author/editor whose work I know complaining that he had been applying for jobs. The context was that he has been a gig worker for some time (to the extent that he may be considered internet famous). I have found the idea of gig work unseemly for as long as I’ve been aware of it. Like so many things these days, I see it more as a symptom of a systemic problem.

There have long been freelancers. Though the word itself is only from the early 19th century, the concept of mercenary goes back at least to medieval times in Europe, and has analogs in other cultural systems.

The freelancer can be quite a bargain:

  1. The equipment (the “lance”) is literally free. A musician or another artist generally brings along the tools of his trade.
  2. The training he brings was already acquired prior to the employment, so it is also free.
  3. The employer generally has little or no obligation to continue compensation after termination.
  4. There is no implied continuity of support before or after the term of employment.
  5. The employer may renegotiate the contract in his favor at his pleasure.

The important feature of the last three points is that there is a required context. This context is that there should be little or no safety net. Any social safety net will work against these features. Insurance – be it unemployment, health, disability, etc. – provides a level of assistance that reduces the level of urgency intrinsic to a spell of unemployment. As such, the bargaining power of the potential employer is greatly reduced.

Since FDR, the Republican Party has made a religion of dismantling the social safety net.

The concept of the “gig,” coupled with this weakening of support, allows for the greater power of the employer over the employed. The combined result is the rapid upward transfer of wealth from the employed to the employer.