The gig economy, also known as the sharing economy, is a very new, and a very old concept. There was a time in history where people owned little, and traded goods and services to survive. The idea of owning property and paying for goods and services with currency is, in the long history of humanity, a relatively new one. In recent history the idea of the American dream, to have a good job, own a house, and own two cars has taken over the world, with nations and citizens of the world looking to emulate what America has created over the past 70 years.
It may be only appropriate that the end of this American dream and the birth of a new one, come out of the United Stated itself, namely Silicon Valley, the engine of innovation and disruption. The dream of owning a home in the suburbs with a fence is declining, after the 2008 Great Recession, as well as Millennials facing large college debt and a reluctance to take on debt. Cities across the country are seeing a boom in rental properties being built, to accommodate the increased demand.
Uber and Lyft have been at the forefront of the on-demand culture. Why own a car when you can call one at the touch of a button. More young people today would prefer to own the latest smart phone than a car. More and more driving age citizens are forgoing getting their driver’s license, opting instead for public transit and on demand rides. This trend will only increase, along with the maturation of self driving technology, leading to true on demand availability.
The Gig economy also relates to work itself, with up to 40% of workers in the U.S. now relying on short term, temp, gig jobs for all or a large part of their income. Task apps now allow us to hire pet sitters, handymen, and others, all at the touch of a button. This trend will only increase as AI and robotics slowly (but not too slowly) replace human workers in the factory, office and restaurant.
In a world where we do not own fewer houses, do not own cars, and, essentially, do not own our jobs, what are the ramifications? If large corporations own all the real property, and people only pay to use, what will the relationship be between people and Companies? People and government? People and Country? Will this be an age of enlightenment, where people are free to pursue passion and dreams, and not be locked down to a location? Or are we looking at a world of aimlessness, with no purpose or place to call home? Will there be community pride, as people have no ownership?
Marx is forever linked to communism but his concept of the post-capitalist society seems to me to refer to a future we are now facing, and one he could never have imagined. Automation, Artificial Intelligence, easy access to information and the resulting cost of production approaching zero will lead to an evolution of society and social norms. This creates an angst and uncomfortable feeling in the global unconscious, which we have recently seen take hold around the world.