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Can the Sharing Economy Provide Good Jobs?

By May 12, 2015 February 12th, 2016 No Comments

Have your house cleaned by Handy or Homejoy; your groceries bought and delivered by Instacart; your clothes washed by Washio. TaskRabbit will send someone to pick up a last-minute gift; Shyp will wrap and deliver it. Need dinner? SpoonRocket will bring a restaurant-quality meal to your door within 10 minutes. These are just a few of the growing number of start-ups created to match jobs with independent contractors on the fly – all part of the multi-billion dollar sharing economy. Less than five years ago, most of us couldn’t have imagined the likes of Uber or Airbnb, let alone an entire marketplace defined by on-demand labor and services. But it’s here and it’s reshaping the nature of companies and careers.

Now the question is, as posed by The Wall Street Journal earlier this week, can the sharing economy provide good jobs? Social innovator Rachel Botsman, who has been helping define the collaborative consumption movement since she coined the concept in 2010, sees benefits for many kinds of workers. On the other side of the debate, Andrew Keen – one of the world’s most influential thinkers on 21st century business and technology – says they’re getting a raw deal.

“The sharing economy is empowering millions of people to unlock the value of their time, skills and talents to make money in ways and on a scale never possible before,” says Botsman, widely regarded as the guru of the sharing economy and currently teaching the world’s first MBA course on the subject at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School. “It is providing good jobs, but not in the way ‘good jobs’ are traditionally defined.”

For many, a traditional employment relationship is an outdated and unattractive concept. Since the postindustrial age, technology has continued to pull us away from centralized, hierarchal institutions. The sharing economy is part of the transformation – changing the way we create and access goods and services, and impacting all levels of labor and works for every age. But according to Keen, executive director of the Silicon Valley innovation salon FutureCast and author of “The Internet is Not the Answer” (Atlantic Monthly Press, January 2015), the changes aren’t good ones. Rather, this “gig” economy “is compounding the increasingly precarious nature of labor and creating a new class of networked workers: the ‘precariat.’”

Keen believes the problem is with the terms of service. “To create good jobs it must provide workers with the minimal benefits that guarantee a decent standard of living” – such as health insurance and sick pay. But it’s not the sharing economy that created such a disparity, argues Botsman; “it is caught in a historical cycle of technological innovation outpacing employment law.”

Regardless of what side you’re on, it’s clear that the model is gaining ground and will continue to change the future of work. Join The Wall Street Journal debate:http://on.wsj.com/1FfJWlh.