I have never been a big believer in and much less a huge fan of the gig economy.
My analysis has been pretty straightforward : A few get rich or richer by taking advantage of the misfortunes of many.
Maybe it’s time to be a bit more nuanced. Because the gig economy is not one thing; it is several. I count at least three variations, and then the question becomes which one of the three should we progress given that there are some flexibility elements in the gig economy that are appealing to many?
Let’s briefly look at the three versions:
In the privileged version you enable people to get the most of their experience and expertise by helping them build upon their personal brands and get it out to more people, who pay for the privilege of special access.
Think Substack and what they enable content providers to do through paid niche newsletters.
In the convenience version you agree to a marriage of convenience a la “I scratch your back, you scratch mine”, where you get something for your troubles, but it’s not the main thing for you.
Think Uber and their drivers, where many of the latter get an extra income whenever they want to top what they do elsewhere, and Uber gets a flock of mechanical turks to make their service work, until we have self-driving cars or some other form of non-human door-to-door transportation.
It works until it doesn’t anymore. And that’s ok. It’s life.
The final version is the exploitation version. This is the unfortunate fundamentally unsustainable business model in a modern society, where clever people with a certain kind of moral compass use the misfortunes of other people to build a business and enrich themselves.
Why is it unsustainable? Because it does nothing to even the playing field. On the contrary it expands the gulf between the ‘haves’ and the ‘haves not’ in terms of income and prosperity, and looking at it through a historical optic it seldom ends really well for society.
This is where we have services such as meal delivery service Wolt whose business model IMHO is centered around a beautiful UX – or if you prefer; lipstick on a pig – a sizeable fee for participating (typically low margin) restaurants on every transaction and very little ending up with the ‘partners’ (i.e. not ’employees’ with any rights whatsoever) who do the brunt of the actual work.
This last version of the gig economy is what is giving the gig economy a bad name in many quarters. It may sound nice and flexible, but in reality its implications are poisonous over time to a lot of people. And potentially to society at well.
Looking forward we IMHO need to ensure that the development of a sustainable gig economy focuses on providing opportunity and access to the privileged version of it, for those who seek a more flexible lifestyle related to work and living their lives the way they see fit without in effect nesting at the bottom of society.
We can start that by developing services and programs that help these people deliver enduring value that they can actually capture the brunt of themselves.