John O. McGinnis, the George C. Dix Professor in Constitutional Law at Northwestern University, says we are in the midst of a sharing economy, and that’s a good thing. (Don’t get all socialist on me; a sharing economy is one driven by service and technology. We are not going to have to pool our food in the commune.) McGinnis says this type of economy is good for liberty as well.
There are three basic features of a sharing economy:
- It reduces costs, by matching up real-time idle services and resources with people in need.
- It employs the hard-to-employ, say, people who need a very flexible schedule.
- It creates new jobs – jobs that didn’t exist before.
This is all good, right? There are critics:
Guy Standing, a professor of Development Studies at the University of London’s School of African and Oriental Studies, attacks the sharing economy’s uncertainty – workers cannot be sure of their next gig. But people work “at will” in traditional jobs as well. Employees are laid off from companies every day, often leaving as specialists in skills that are no longer needed. As the article implies, many of those in the sharing economy are undertaking a diversity of tasks (driving, gardening, being a chef). Such diversification helps address uncertainty.
There are others that say workers in a shared economy will be exploited financially, even using “wage slavery” as a description of jobs in a shared economy.
The term “wage slavery” attempts to deconstruct and invert the essence of markets, where the freedom to choose has allowed the vast majority of people to live ever more abundantly over the centuries. The benefits are no more a social construct than gravity. The sharing economy is just another variation on this happy truth.