What is really going on behind the corporate rhetoric of the so-called ‘sharing economy’? That is, the bullshit sharing economy, the economy where all the risks and very little of the profits are shared? The economy that allows a level of exploitation of which the likes of McDonalds and Walmart can only dream?
This article by Kelly Dessaint from Disinfo (an excerpt from the forthcoming zine Behind the Wheel 3: Your Uber Driver Hates You), sets out exactly what the day-to-day experience of driving full-time for Uber and Lyft in a big city (in this case San Francisco) is like. And it’s not too pretty…
Fuck, I hate Lyft. As I sit in suspended awkwardness next to Tina, feeling like we’re both going to explode from the tension, I begin to wonder if I really have reached my Uber breaking point. I thought I had, but now I’m not so sure… This isn’t the first time I’ve bailed on Uber. Except in the past, I’d do a couple Lyft rides, realize how exhausting it is pretending to give a shit about the people I drive for even less money and quickly flip-flop back to Uber. This time, though, I don’t have a choice.
Dessaint’s essay is put into further perspective by this one by Nathan Schneider, Why the Tech Elite Is Getting Behind Universal Basic Income about how the Silicon Valley libertarians are starting to come ’round to the idea of a Universal Basic Income, which might sound like a positive thing – free money for everyone, right? However he is quick to point out that its main consequence might be that it allows ‘sharing economy’ companies to reduce their own obligations towards their workers even further, and thus create a vast mass of people who are at little more than a survival level, while the mega-corps they work for take all the profits (and put it in tax havens of course, while using publicly-funded infrastructure) – so basically what we have now, but even more so, creating even more of a two-tier society:
If we were to fund basic income only by gutting existing welfare, and not by taxing the rich, it would do the opposite of fixing inequality; money once reserved for the poor would end up going to those who need it less. Instead of being a formidable bulwark against poverty, a poorly funded basic-income program could produce a vast underclass more dependent on whoever cuts the checks.
On the other hand, a properly-funded basic income could wipe out a great deal of ‘bullshit jobs’, free up people to do things they really want to do, and ease the transition away from a fear/war based society towards a genuine sharing economy, based on solid renewable energy and abundance for all. The ‘robot apocalypse’ that is going to take all our jobs can then be cautiously embraced as we won’t be reliant on those jobs for our survival.
I don’t really blame the tech-bros for thinking the way they do, after all it’s all they know, but we should be extremely wary of allowing them to design any potential UBI scheme. As Schneider notes:
A basic income designed by venture capitalists in Silicon Valley is more likely to reinforce their power than to strengthen the poor. But a basic income arrived at through the vision and the struggle of those who need it most would help ensure that it meets their needs first. If we’re looking for a way through the robot apocalypse, we can do better than turn to the people who are causing it.