Participation in “alternative work arrangements” has declined slightly over the past decade or so, leading the New York Times to declare that the hype about it has been overblown.

The Times story is based on the US government’s first assessment of gig employment, which was a qualitative survey, so the numbers are dependent on what questions were asked, how they were asked, who got asked, and how people chose to respond.

And, just like the US Labor Bureau’s statistics on employment don’t get anywhere near to telling the complete story about jobs — for instance, its narrow definition of what constitutes “looking for employment” excludes millions who don’t have them — the gig survey doesn’t count people who work for outsourcing firms, which are a big thing these days.

So the gig economy isn’t replacing traditional jobs, necessarily, yet traditional jobs are moving, sort of, to becoming gigified.

Maybe the confusion arises from the term “gig economy.”

Selling your time and skills in service to someone else isn’t a new concept; it used to be called being a serf and, during the industrialization of the 19th century, it was renamed “free wage labor”, as workers weren’t owned any longer by feudal masters, but they were still beholden to employers who owned what Marx called the means of production.

There was nothing empowering or inspiring about the arrangement, as whatever freedom workers found in moving from job to job was outweighed by the financial instability arising from the very same process…

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Categories: InnovationEssays