Can you hear the roar?

The anticipation of a repeat of the ‘Roaring 20s’ is growing, as people are starting to see light at the end of the Covid-19 tunnel.

However, I think two things are worth noting in this context; who will benefit – and what could follow?

To pick up on the last point first, let’s all remember what happened after the roaring 20s the last time around.

That’s right. Fascism!

Of course there were numerous factors in play not least in Germany with hyperinflation caused by overly massive war reparation payments to the allies. But still. The 20s was not ‘roaring’ for everybody; millions got left behind, and that created a fertile ground for demagogues with terrible ideas.

And that brings me to the second point: Who will it benefit?

I think it’s pretty clear by now that we’re super busy creating a broken society where few have all the money and all the perks, and the vast majority are being left behind through various means. Could be lack of access to education, poor healthcare, poorly paid jobs in ‘the gig economy’; the list seems rather endless.

What that have so far created is a huge ton of friction, which reached a recent climax in the January 6 riots at the US Capitol in Washington DC.

Because let’s be clear: A lot of what was at display that day was rooted in a toxic mix of

  • poor or lacking opportunities in society,
  • incitement amplified by Big Tech and
  • old fashioned demagoguery.

This is also part of the level playing field, we’re looking at when discussing the coming of the new ‘roaring 20s’. It’s a messy thing and by no means all sunshine and opportunity out there.

What does it matter if Peloton is hyped for it’s home fitness portfolio of great products, if few people can afford the investment or ongoing financial commitment in the equipment?

What does yet another streaming service mean, if people are struggling to put food on their tables and thus have no disposable income left for entertainment (other than maxing out yet another credit card – if they can get one).

What does it say when Wolt, a meal delivery service that relies on the working poor as ‘delivery partners’ raises 530M USD to expand their IMHO toxic business model to new geographies and verticals?

If we want the 2020s to roar for real, we need to come up with a better plan.

That could start with figuring out how we can use our skillsets, expertise and our funding to pursue closing the gap between high and low by providing new opportunities that leave people better off and thus fend off the bill to be paid, when the music – or in this case: the roaring – stops.

That is where the real sustainable opportunity is.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

The gig economy challenge

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.

(Photo: Pixabay)