The Gig Economy

The need to stop being afraid is becoming more and more urgent.

It is called the gig economy. It is providing more and more people the opportunity to create the kind of work life that has the potential to fulfil our basic needs as well as suit our aspirations for creative freedom. Peer to peer services such as Airbnb, Uber, Uber eats, Deliveroo, Love Home Swap and One Fine Stay to name a few of the most popular, where a digital platform connects the service and the customer, have been changing the work economy for the last 6-7 years. Self-employment in the UK rose from 3.6 million in 2008 to 4.8 million in 2015 and it would seem that the companies and services that are partly responsible for the change in these figures are purveyors of the gig economy and who  also are not going any place soon.

There is a tension between our creative freedom and our maintaining a survival budget that takes care of a place to call home, heat, water, light, food to eat and social, events and travel etc. The tension manifests as the deep dissatisfaction experienced when the nine-to-five job seems to do more to drive you into a depression beyond paying the bills. It is suppressed creativity and it can be excruciating. Human beings are innately creative. When we are expressing our creativity we have freedom of expression. It is not about being able paint like Picasso or poet like Sylvia Plath. Rather, when you have Discovered your purpose and have found a way to express it and furthermore have been able to earn a decent living from it, inside of that there is an ability to experience a kind of control over your destiny.

The personal and professional begin to align in ways that are more suited to a satisfying experience of your work life. This is despite the off-key melody of government concerns and rhetoric on the so called negative impact on the economy. With self-employed people and contractors paying up to £2000 less in tax than the average worker there are fears over the impact on government finances. How genuine is this fear given the uneven distribution of wealth that exists currently? There are tax laws that benefit the wealthy that may serve better in creating an equality of earning that balances the system at least some of the way towards no longer allowing the poorest people in our communities to pick up the financial slack for all, but I digress. We’re looking at how the fabric of society as it stands can be over-ridden, side-stepped or manipulated to an advantageous position for those of us with the will to create freedom to full self-expression, satisfaction and fulfilment in our lives.

The need to stop being afraid is becoming more and more urgent. The need to cut ties with the perverse life-force that supplies the tools for mindless apathy. Where the mindset is completely lacking in understanding how to generate an income using the properties available to hand. It could be intellectual property or a product that has a viable place in the market provided time and courage are engaged in to make it  happen. Furthermore, the idea of producing a service or product that will be in the hands of or help those in your sphere of reach and that you resonate with create and environment where the power is transferred into the hands of those people. Tim Ferris’, Four Hour Work Week broke ground in transforming how we view our work lives. Movements like Mr Money Mustache and Freerange Humans advocate and put into practise financial freedom that puts success in a place beyond life being about accumulating cash to fulfil our need for self-actualisation.

The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life. ~ Jane Addams

Consequently, the essence of the gig economy has the potential to provide us with the experience of our purchases as local once more. I refer to a time when the high street was populated by independent shops, sometimes family owned and where there was a sense of knowing where your money was going to and that profits would most likely be passed to future generations. It was not removed in the same way it is when we do a big shop at one of the major supermarkets. In the gig economy it is not as pure, where the monetary transaction happens by way of an app or through a website on a computer interface. The trappings or tools of the modern world and as I have mentioned will also not be going any place soon.

It is clear that the gig economy is still much about business, there’s no dispute against that. Airbnb blew up and make a tonne of money and record breaking profits recorded each year. The net value of Uber, Love home Swap and their contemporaries are rising month on month. There are issues arising from these businesses that the government are tackling. The advent of Airbnb has impacted the housing stock and availability of assured tenancies in the UK. Government legislation has been put in place to manage the impact. There can be no progress without pain, however the transaction between service provider and client or in the case of Airbnb, host and client is in many ways purer than the larger percentage of consumer transactions in our everyday lives. Paying the person whose home you are staying in directly, the same person you will bump into in the kitchen when you fancy a cup of tea before heading out for a day of sightseeing, is in some ways developing a transaction that feels local.

There are no direct bosses or managers to answer to in providing these services. Working for yourself on any level where you are responsible for paying our own tax, i.e. not a PAYE arrangement (with an employer) is essentially a series of gigs. When you are sub-contracted by a company it will be for an agreed period after which time you will have to secure another ‘gig’ to sustain your income. In essence the gig economy is the same as traditional self-employment only it is on a smaller scale, by which I define as the payment for services rendered is lower than in other types of work. A freelance graphic designer for example will charge a higher fee for the service they provide, given the difference in demand from the market.

Digital media is giving us the power to cut out the middle man. With the conduit in place in the form of an app or website we can go online and buy that cool t-shirt directly from the designer without the need for a store in a Westfield shopping centre. The advent of pop-up shops and short contract pitches in boutique street markets enables us to make the connection and transaction face to face in keeping with the independent, retailing directly to their customer. There is a place to sell, test the product and the market before graduating to larger scale manufacturing and distribution by a high street chain store or department store. That is, if that is the main goal. Working for yourself is not always about trying to make a pile of money and when we peel back the layers of our wants and needs, it is what the money is perceived to be required for that is the real goal.

Local works or corruption reigns. In Noo Sara-Wiwa’s travel journal, Looking for Transwonderland, she writes unapologetically albeit regretfully about the level of corruption that pervades the Nigerian government. It filters down to the general populous creating an atmosphere of distrust and apathy. The reason she sites for this state of affairs starts with the three-hundred plus ethnic groups being thrown into a melting pot called a ‘unified’ nation state. Encouraged by the UK where in Europe the nation state fell into a viable system by way of clearly drawn lines of ethnicity, established by centuries of war. It did not work in Nigeria. A country where the legacy of ostentatious displays of money and spending in the hands of the relative few who by way of wielding power and influence was served by bureaucrats who unwittingly or otherwise upheld this power structure. Centuries of extended family and ethnic bonds have served people well through famine and drought. It is not uncommon for older siblings to pay tuition fees for their younger brothers and sisters, nor their children or family members relatively further afield. They become the doctors, lawyers and business women of the next generation. This system does not work so well in the free-market economy and the genetically based system of trust is eroded. Had they been left to their traditional devices the local way of supporting community would most likely have evolved in a way that did not lead to the disease of corruption that has so badly marred the country.

If an ideology for the gig economy can begin to re-establish the benefits of ‘local support,’ perhaps the possibility of a system where the people have the power can create change for the better. This, before it is too late.

The ones that think they are crazy enough to change the world are the ones that do. ~ Anon

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