A Farewell To Jobs

Comment

Image Credits:

Jon Evans

Contributor

Jon Evans is the CTO of the engineering consultancy HappyFunCorp; the award-winning author of six novels, one graphic novel, and a book of travel writing; and TechCrunch’s weekend columnist since 2010.

More posts from Jon Evans

Few subjects elicit more skepticism than the so-called “sharing economy.” Kevin Roose argues: “The Sharing Economy Isn’t About Trust, It’s About Desperation.” Catherine Rampell warns: “there’s a dark side to these work arrangements … the shifting of risk off corporate balance sheets and onto the shoulders of individual Americans.”

US courts are wrestling with whether Uber and Lyft drivers are contractors or should be considered employees. (It’s a hard case: I can see both sides. It seems to me like an issue the Supreme Court ought to ultimately decide.) And they’re just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Rebecca Smith observes on CNN:

Major corporations are increasingly using subcontracting structures, like outsourcing jobs, hiring workers through staffing agencies, and franchising … Hundreds of thousands of people work days-long or hours-long “gigs” … PriceWaterhouseCoopers estimated last summer that the sharing economy as a whole, valued at $15 billion in 2013, could reach $335 billion globally by 2025. It’s not hard to see who wins and who loses in this scenario.

…Or is it?

I see her point: the gig economy tends to reduce workers to fungible, replaceable cogs. Workers devalued in that way inevitably make less money and receive fewer benefits. When you can be more easily replaced, you become, pretty much by definition, less valuable; and technology is making the process of replacing one laborer with another increasingly frictionless.

This isn’t restricted to Uber and Lyft drivers. Consider the increasing proportion of university faculty who are part-time lecturers, who “can also be hired quickly to teach just one class, if that’s what’s needed.” Consider the booming growth in temp jobs.

And consider jobs that haven’t traditionally been gigs. Tech makes it easier to onboard new people, too. It’s easy to imagine retail businesses, or restaurants/bars/cafes, hiring additional staff on-demand, on a shift-by-shift basis, through some Uber-like app for small businesses; replacing employees with interchangeable cashiers and baristas who move from store to store and restaurant to restaurant, one shift at a time, dependent on high ratings from each proprietor.

Imagine this process multiplied by a thousand during the next decade, across businesses large and small; imagine the atomization of large swathes of the economy into work done by increasingly replaceable human cogs.

And yet.

Significant portions of the economy already work that way today — to the benefit of the cogs in question. I’m thinking of registered nurses and software engineers. Today’s nurse shortage is expected to expand across the US until 2030. The leverage that good software engineers have in today’s tech market is sufficiently well-documented that I won’t bother belaboring the point.

And yet, in principle, both nurses and engineers are reasonably fungible. Short-term nursing contracts are plentiful, as are short-term engineering projects. One good iOS developer can easily replace another; good developers write code that’s easy for others to understand, maintain and expand. (One resulting irony is that sometimes a bad developer can be harder to replace than a good one.)

It seems like half the coders I know, or work with in my day job, are short-term contractors — often with their own startup fermenting on the side. What’s more, they do this by choice; they could easily get full-time work with benefits, but they prefer the flexibility of contracting. As do many nurses, as I understand it.

My point is that it’s not the gig and/or “sharing” economy, in and of itself, which undercuts workers’ pay, benefits, and (arguably) rights. It’s something far more classic; an excess of supply relative to demand. Professions where supply is low and demand is high frequently disdain full-time employment and voluntarily choose contract employment instead.

The troubles that overstressed, dehumanized gig-economy workers face are very real, but they’re not caused by the so-called sharing economy. All that it’s doing is spreading work more evenly among those who want it. The real problem is that there isn’t enough demand for all the work that all those people want to do — and so it, and they, are devalued.

Tech arguably plays a role there as well. And it will play a much larger one, if it’s true that technology is destroying jobs faster than it creates them, as many people (including me) have predicted. But let’s not blame the “sharing economy.” It’s just a symptom, not the problem.

More TechCrunch

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’

When Jeffrey Wang posted to X asking if anyone wanted to go in on an order of fancy-but-affordable office nap pods, he didn’t expect the post to go viral.

With AI startups booming, nap pods and Silicon Valley hustle culture are back

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

1 day ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

1 day ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?

Strava announced a slew of features, including AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, a new ‘family’ subscription plan, dark mode and more.

Strava taps AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, unveils ‘family’ plan, dark mode and more

We all fall down sometimes. Astronauts are no exception. You need to be in peak physical condition for space travel, but bulky space suits and lower gravity levels can be…

Astronauts fall over. Robotic limbs can help them back up.

Microsoft will launch its custom Cobalt 100 chips to customers as a public preview at its Build conference next week, TechCrunch has learned. In an analyst briefing ahead of Build,…

Microsoft’s custom Cobalt chips will come to Azure next week

What a wild week for transportation news! It was a smorgasbord of news that seemed to touch every sector and theme in transportation.

Tesla keeps cutting jobs and the feds probe Waymo

Sony Music Group has sent letters to more than 700 tech companies and music streaming services to warn them not to use its music to train AI without explicit permission.…

Sony Music warns tech companies over ‘unauthorized’ use of its content to train AI