Thursday, April 16, 2015

The feudal sharing economy

At least they're starting to admit who they are.
The "vision" of Mr Brian Chesky, the celebrated CEO of the other billionaire new kid on the block of the sharing economy: AirBnb, comes very close to this new feudalism. That's what he said in an interview reported by Venture Beat: "In essence, Brian Chesky wants a world more like the villages of old: highly trusting and filled with micro-entrepreneurs who shared their assets to make a living. Cities used to be generally villages, and everyone was essentially kind of like an entrepreneur,” he told a packed room at the Atlantic Aspen Ideas Festival. “You were either a farmer, or you worked in the city as a blacksmith, or you had some kind of trade. And then the Industrial Revolution happened". Just put the word "serf" where he uses "entrepreneur", and you've got the whole picture. He likes this world so much, this is our bright future in his vision, with the multitude being those micro serfs depending on the moods of the Lord of the Village, Brian Chesky himself of course
Today the front pages of your local newspapers are trumpeting the city council's recent licensing of UberX to operate in Orleans Parish.  Everyone is very gung-ho.
City officials have said they would be able to start processing applications from ride-hailing services as soon as the regulations become law.

“We are stepping out of our comfort zone and leading on a cutting-edge issue,” Councilman Jared Brossett, who drafted the regulations along with Councilwoman Susan Guidry, said in a statement. “This law strikes the right balance. It serves the needs of our citizens and visitors in adding a new high-tech model to complement our traditional for-hire industry. The bottom line is that this will lead to a strengthened transportation environment for all.”
But the so-called Sharing Economy is, by its very nature, not built to "serve the needs of our citizens."  Unless, you limit your concept of "our citizens" to the very wealthy which Susan Guidry and Jared Brossett very well might. 
Covering the latest app has become commonplace because it’s the latest thing, and therefore it must be cool and life-changing. While it’s “cool” to most of the world, it’s only “life-changing” to those who can shell out the cash for the lifestyle—which is a lot of the journalists writing about them.

Matter’s Lauren Smiley, who lives in the building in which her story is set, referred to these apps’ users as members of the “Shut-In Economy.” The piece describes them as aware of their #whitepeopleproblems, but unapologetically so. “Basically, people a lot like herself,” Smiley wrote, referring to a woman who epitomized this new economy: the class of men and women who are late 20s to early 30s, have a high income and use on-demand services without batting an eye. “That’s the common wisdom: The apps are created by the urban young for the needs of urban young.” Last week, New York Magazine’s Annie Lowrey took it a step further and lived with only these modern conveniences for two weeks. Her piece was slapped with a painfully tone-deaf headline: “Will the New Concierge Economy Mean the End of the Errand?"

Of course not. For the vast majority of us, the inconvenience of running errands doesn’t outweigh the financial costs of doing it ourselves.
High income 20 and 30 somethings. Those are the only people who have any representation in city government these days. Even if those aren't the people who actually live here, they do comprise the population New Orleans's political class aspires to represent.  We've only been slightly more successful than Baton Rouge at affecting this demographic change.  But just look at how sad it makes them.
The parish's birth rate and international migration basically carried the area's population growth. And according to Louisiana demographer Elliott, Stonecipher, that's not good.

International migration, it's safe to assume, is mostly derived from Latin America, he said -- mainly from Mexico. These newcomers mostly work in low-wage jobs, and in many cases are not in the country legally. Therefore, they pay little or no taxes.

"That's why you hear politicians (talk of attracting) quality in-migrants," Stonecipher said. "It's not a value judgment."

Leaders of most metropolitans, and especially in Baton Rouge, actively seek to attract young, educated professionals who are currently busting at the seams in places like Austin, Texas, to grow and maintain their tax base.

While population data for Baton Rouge might appear to reflect younger, quality migrants, Stonecipher said it's not likely the case. Hispanic migrants tend to be younger and of childbearing age, so international migration growth can be easily confused to suggest growth of quality, domestic migrants.
You really have to feel for these "metropolitan leaders." They're trying to select a better quality of people to serve but keep ending up with all these dang Mexicans.  This is literally the complaint they are making. Seems like democracy was supposed to work the other way around. But who knows anymore.

In any case, they're probably too quick to dismiss their competitive advantage since "concierge apps" are only possible when you have a ready supply of cheap and desperate labor to feed them.
There are still only twenty-four hours in a day. When “downtime” is turned into work time, and that work time is unpredictable and low-paid, what happens to personal relationships? Family? One’s own health?

Other proponents of on-demand work point to studies, such as one recently commissioned by Uber, showing Uber’s on-demand workers to be “happy.”

But how many of them would be happier with a good-paying job offering regular hours?

An opportunity to make some extra bucks can seem mighty attractive in an economy whose median wage has been stagnant for thirty years and almost all of whose economic gains have been going to the top.

That doesn’t make the opportunity a great deal. It only shows how bad a deal most working people have otherwise been getting.
And maybe this is the future of regionalism in South Louisiana.  Nobody actually lives in Orleans Parish but it's a swell place to vacation (or own property if you can afford it.)  So get yourself to NOLA, luxury citizen! While you're there you can call on a vast army of chauffeurs and errand do-ers to keep you comfortable simply by punching some buttons on your phone. They live just outside the city or just up I-10 a bit.

Of course, when you do get here,  you'll need a place to stay and/or rent out at too damn high prices.  The city council is working on that for you too.

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