Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Perpetual underemployment

Pretty comprehensive post here on the so-called "sharing" or "gig" economy.... you know, Taskrabbit, Uber, Airbnb and the like.

One problem we run up against when discussing these phenomena locally, is our reportage tends to assume the debate happening over Airbnb in New Orleans is occurring in total isolation. It's almost as though Bob Ellis and some "entrepreneurial" landlord friends of his invented the thing.  Readers are left to interpret the issue, as Stacy Head does, as a simply a local means of putting property to what realtors call its "highest use" purpose in order to "reduce blight" and (hopefully) raise tax revenue (though I don't think that's as much a priority as they say.) 

The only counter-argument presented is the upward pressure this action is putting on rents.  That ought to be enough but.. as we've seen.. our political leaders don't really care about renters or poor people in general.  And by and large the press writes about gentrification as though it were a natural inevitable event.  I try to write about the deliberate policy choices our leaders make in order to encourage and nurture it but that never seems to get through to anybody.

Of course, they say all politics is local, so it's important to "act locally"... as they also say. But it's also worth keeping in mind, at least for perspective's sake, that the context for this thing we're acting on is global.
Worse yet, the model itself caters to the worst aspects of neo-libertarianism (no rules, no regulations, no oversight, no workplace protections, no safety nets, and so on). It’s as cynical and even a little desperate. It can even be predatory and opportunistic… which would be somewhat fine if the prize were worth the cost to the community, but the reward is basically worth pennies on the dollar, which makes it a zero-sum game for everyone not standing to make real money on the back end. It undermines full-time employment. It undermines workplace protections. It undermines income security. Follow that daisy chain long enough and you’ll see how it impacts consumer confidence and spending too. And does it at least lower the cost of goods or increase real GDP? Nope. It doesn’t.

Here’s the truth of this model: look at it long enough and you’ll start to see how Dickensian it really is. And once you see it, once you get what it really is and where it really leads, you can’t unsee it. For more on that, read this bit by Alexander Howard (Huffpo’s Senior Tech and Society Editor).

Here’s an exercise: Imagine a world where nobody has full time jobs anymore, where everyone is a contractor. For some of you, that will probably seem like some kind of entrepreneurial utopia, a libertarian dream. In theory, sure. It sounds kind of cool because “freedom”… but then you realize that it’s the kind of model that we did away with in the early parts of the 20th century, and for good reasons: A “gig economy” cannot produce or support a healthy middle class. It doesn’t factor-in realistic retirement planning or college savings. Because it eliminates income security, it all but eradicates upward mobility. What you end up with is a 1% class (more like a 5%) and a 99% (95%) class, which isn’t super healthy for any economy, as history shows us time and time again. Fully realized, that gig economy looks like this for the 99%: selling and renting everything they possibly can to make ends meet and save a little money here and there. For the 1%, it cuts most of the cost out of running a business, which is kind of the point.
Not all of that applies to Airbnb specifically. But the Short Term Rental "sharing economy" idealized as locals residents renting out a couch or a spare bedroom on the weekends,  is often sold to us locally as a way to help service industry workers or "culture bearers" as they're sometimes infuriatingly termed, make ends meet.  Why are we not focused on helping these people make ends meet through their regular work?   Our thought leaders won't say.  Although it's likely that tourism leaders are pleased with a labor market driven by perpetual underemployment as it is. And since tourism leaders are the thought leaders in this town, well.. there you go.

Besides, at the last community meeting, the landlords up and said this isn't about quaint little part time open house hosts.  They say they want to turn whole neighborhoods into permanent resort villas. Where the help... and in the context of a fully realized sharing economy we are all pretty well described as "the help".. goes to live when that happens, is really not their problem.

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