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The gig economy is exploitation by an evil empire. Discuss!

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The supposed ‘rise’ of the ‘gig’ economy is causing much debate on whether its impacts are good or evil for society. There’s much confusion.

The author of a new book, Gigged: The End of the Job and the Future of Work, was interviewed on the USA Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) this week where the social issues were discussed. The four-minute interview can be seen here.

The debate is, in fact, quite old. In my book, Independence and the Death of Employment, first published in 2005, I addressed all the issues brilliantly (of course!) (Um, my book is not on a best-seller list but I’m sure my brilliance will be recognised one day in the dim, distant future!!)

The gig economy is in truth just another model of independence at work. And people who work in the wage-‘controlled’ employment environment have great difficulty understanding true independence at work. This particularly applies to academics, bureaucrats, unions and policy-makers who overwhelmingly work in the ‘controlled’ structures of managerial employment. It’s these people who often generate the debate, accusing ‘work independence’ of somehow being exploitation!

The International Labour Organisation started debating this in 1996. But in 2006 it resolved that self-employment was legitimate. We attended the debates in Geneva and wrote this report on the outcomes.

But questions about the legitimacy of work independence were raised in Australia again late last year (2017) when the ATO decided to deny Australian Business Numbers to self-employed transcribers. We fought successfully to have the ABNs reinstated. Here’s our campaign and we described the policy issues here. We’ve discovered the extent to which the ATO was acting on its social view—namely, that self-employment is bad—and that tax collection was not the issue.

We see this debate now reaching a new fever pitch. The issue is simple. Is managerial controlled wage employment the only legitimate form of work? Or is independence and self-control of work—that is, self-employment—also legitimate and worthy? In many respects it’s a debate about freedom!
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