Friday, July 24, 2015

The Uber Economy and the Distribution of Labor

One of Marx's more famous statements is that
as soon as the distribution of labour comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a herdsman, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic. (The German Ideology)
While the possibility of the elimination of the division of labor have historically sounded utterly ridiculous -- especially given the immense benefits which have accrued from it for the entire human race -- it seems that we may have entered a time when we can do exactly the kind of things Marx suggested.

And it is all due to the Internet.

Uber/Lyft provide the model. If you want to be an Uber driver, you sign up. You can pretty much set your own times. You can work as much little as you'd like. You can work as a driver while also working at another job. So you could literally work one job in the morning and another job in the evening. And if you sign up on Airbnb, you can also work as a hotelier. Third job.

But what if this is only the beginning?

How many other kinds of work or services could be provided in this model? It is no longer impossible to imagine signing up for various jobs online to provide various services and working one in the morning, another in the afternoon, another in the evening, another after dinner, one thing today and another tomorrow.

And anyone with a blog can criticize after dinner.

All of this came about not because of communism, but because of the emergence of a new spontaneous order -- the internet. More specifically, the increasingly wireless internet. Marx was right that the emergence of a new social order would make such a life as he explains above possible; he was only wrong that it would (or could) at all resemble communism. It has turned out to be, in many ways, the absolute opposite of communism.

The combination of the free market and the internet is making many of Marx's goals possible. We just didn't get there the way he thought we would.

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