Does Uber Make A Universal Basic Income Inevitable?
— John Schmitt (@jschmittwdc) January 22, 2015
We’re pretty much screwed. Precariousness has already been established as the defining feature of the modern labor market, but things are set to get even worse if a story by Farhad Manjoo over at The New York Times is to be believed. Manjoo reports that Silicon Valley’s newest neoliberal monster, Uber, is disrupting more than just the transportation industry.
Uber, according to Manjoo, is “at the center of what could be a sea change in work, and in how people think about their jobs.” The company uses freelance drivers who provide their own vehicle and cover their own expenses in exchange for what Uber claims is a bigger cut of the payment from users. The model looks to be working well for Uber shareholders but an Uberization of the labor force – where workers will be paid by the task rather than on a salary or under an established hourly rate – will undeniably increase worker precarity.
Most younger people in the work force are likely already aware that outside select industries their expectation should be that employment with any employer will not be for a lifetime or even longer than a few years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics someone born in the 1980s is expected have held numerous jobs in their early adulthood and the average (median) tenure of all workers with their current employers is 4.6 years. Not lasting career relationships by any measure, but not entirely temporal let alone task-by-task employment.
If this Uberization does take hold then traditional labor unions will become even more marginalized. All evidence indicates a strong correlation between labor unions and income growth with the decline of unions marking the beginning of the great wage stagnation that has yet to end. Obviously any claim to cause and effect between decreasing unionization and stagnant wages will be met with opposition from conservative economists, but hey, they’re just doing their jobs!
In any case, if the economy becomes more precarious and task-based then the yearning for job security and stability will become an increasingly popular sentiment, opening the door for a ready-made discrete solution – the universal basic income (UBI).
With a UBI the volatility and anxiety of task-based employment would be complimented with the security and peace of mind of knowing that no matter how the dice roll in a given month you and your family won’t go hungry or be sleeping on the streets. With those basic needs guaranteed by social security for all businesses will have no problem finding able, healthy, and content workers nor will the nation’s workforce spend their days (as) terrified by and enslaved to the 1%.
The alternative (and sadly more likely outcome in the near term) will be pushing workers – especially those on the lower end – to the breaking point with precarity. The working life will become indentured servitude variegated by different brands of uniform with the only continuity of economic identity being the debts one carries. That will, not surprisingly, breed discontent and revolt which could lead to outcomes no one should want.
So if we are going to get well Ubered, then UBI should be part of the new deal.