Wednesday September 20, 2017

Platform capitalism, digital technology and the future of work

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Listen to Full Episode 53:59

The biggest innovation in the world of work in the last decade has been the rise of online platforms which connect workers and customers. Uber and Airbnb are the most well known, but there are dozens of others. Upwork connects businesses with independent professional, TaskRabbit, handy and jiffy are platforms for various home services, Amazon Mechanical Turk is on-line marketplace for small computer tasks called micro-tasks, and the list goes on. You can find everything from graphic designers to people who will walk your dog or assemble your Ikea furniture. These platforms have been well received by customers, but for workers, they often have a dark side. And they present a major challenge for governments who are grappling with how to regulate them. Contributor Jill Eisen looks at the digital revolution happening in our working lives. This episode is part 2 of a 3-part series. Part 3 airs Wednesday, September 27. 

 

Platforms like Uber, TaskRabbit and Upwork hold out the promise of freedom, flexibility, the chance to earn a little extra income and be your own boss. For some, that promise does get fulfilled, for but many others, it doesn't. Here's a quote from the former CEO of CrowdFlower, a platform for online work based in San Francisco. "Before the internet, it would be really difficult to find someone, sit them down for 10 minutes, get them to work for you and then fire them after 10 minutes, but with technology, you can actually find them, pay them that tiny amount and then get rid of them as quickly as possible." Quoted in The Nation, Feb. 5, 2014. We seem to be returning to the ruthless and unregulated days of early capitalism in the 19th century. 
 


Guests in the series:

  • Martin Ford, Silicon Valley Entrepreneur and author of Rise Of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future.

  • Nick Srnicek, Lecturer at King's College in London, England. Author of Platform Capitalism and co-author of Inventing the Future.

  • Robert McChesney, Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Illinois, and co-author of People Get Ready: The Fight Against a Jobless Economy and a Citizenless Democracy.

  • Ursula Huws, Professor of Labour and Globalization at the University of Hertfordshire in London, England and author of Labour in the Global Digital Economy.

  • Guy Ryder, Director General of the International Labour Organization.

  • Chris Roberts, Director of Social and Economic Policy at the Canadian Labour Congress.

  • Sam Gindin, Former Research Director for the Canadian Auto Workers – now Unifor – and co-author of The Making of Global Capitalism.

  • Guy Standing, Professor of Economics at the London School of Economics and author of A Precariat Charter and Basic Income: And How We Can Make it Happen.

  • Sunil Johal, Research Director at University of Toronto's Mowat Centre and co-author of the reports, Working Without A Net and Policy Making for The Sharing Economy.

  • Juliet Schor, Professor in the Sociology Department of Boston College and author of The Overworked American and True Wealth.
     
  • Evelyn Forget, Health Economist at the University of Manitoba.


Further reading:

There's a huge number of books published on this topic since 2015. Here are some of them that Jill Eisen found helpful.

  • Rise of the Robots, Martin Ford, Basic Books, 2015.
  • People Get Ready, Robert McChesney and John Nichols, Norton Books, 2016.
  • Labour in the Global Digital Economy, Ursula Huws, Monthly Review Press, 2014.
  • A Precariat Charter, Guy Standing, Bloomsbury, 2014.
  • Basic Income: A Guide For The Open-Minded, Yale University Press, 2017.
  • True Wealth, Juliet Schor, Penguin Books, 2011.
  • The Overworked American, Juliet Schor, Basic Books, 1993.
  • Inventing The Future, Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, 2015.
  • Platform Capitalism, Nick Srnicek, Verso, 2016.
  • The Making of Global Capitalism, Sam Gindin and Leo Panitch, Verso, 2013.
  • Utopia For Realists, Rutger Bregman, Little Brown, 2014.
  • The Second Machine Age, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, W.W. Norton &Company, 2016.
  • Machine Platform Crowd, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, W.W. Norton & Company, 2017.
  • The End of Work, Jeremy Rifkin, Tarcher, 1996.
  • The Future We Want, Sarah Leonard & Bhaskar Sunkara, Metropolitan Books, 2016.
  • Cyber-Proletariat, Nick Dyer-Witheford, Between The Lines, 2015.
  • The Wealth of Humans, Ryan Avent, St. Martin's Press, 2016.
  • What's Yours is Mine, Tom Slee, Between The Lines, 2016.
  • Peers Inc, Robin Chase, Public Affairs, 2015.
  • Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren, John Maynard Keynes, 1930.
  • Policy Making for The Sharing Economy, Sunil Johal and Noah Zon, Mowat Centre, U of T, 2015.


Related websites:

  • A talk by Robert McChesney, co-author of People Get Ready: The Fight Against a Jobless Economy and a Citizenless Democracy, Part 1. 
     
  • A talk by John Nichols, co-author of People Get Ready: The Fight Against A Jobless Economy and a Citizenless Democracy, Part 2. 

**This episode was produced by Jill Eisen and Greg Kelly.


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