from the for-richer-for-poorer dept.
After Uber's success, nearly every pitch made by starry-eyed technologists “in Silicon Valley seemed to morph overnight into an ‘Uber for X’ startup" with various companies described now as “Uber for massages,” “Uber for alcohol,” and “Uber for laundry and dry cleaning,” among many, many other things. The conventional narrative is this: enabled by smartphones, enterprising young businesses are using technology to connect a vast market willing to pay for convenience with small businesses or people seeking flexible work. Now Leo Marini writes that the Uber narrative ignores another vital ingredient, without which this new economy would fall apart: inequality.
"There are only two requirements for an on-demand service economy to work, and neither is an iPhone," says Marini. "First, the market being addressed needs to be big enough to scale—food, laundry, taxi rides. Without that, it’s just a concierge service for the rich rather than a disruptive paradigm shift, as a venture capitalist might say. Second, and perhaps more importantly, there needs to be a large enough labor class willing to work at wages that customers consider affordable and that the middlemen consider worthwhile for their profit margins." There is no denying the seductive nature of convenience—or the cold logic of businesses that create new jobs, whatever quality they may be concludes Marini. "All that modern technology has done is make it easier, through omnipresent smartphones, to amass a fleet of increasingly desperate jobseekers eager to take whatever work they can get."