My driver said he’d been with Uber ever since he’d graduated from his master’s program in IT project management last year. This profession was, according to him, going through hard times. In the wake of the great recession steady jobs had been replaced by short-term contracts, and there weren’t even a lot of these to be had. As a result he was now competing against much more experienced people for each new gig that came up, and he hadn’t had a lot of success since graduating.
So to cover his monthly fixed costs of student loan payments (on more than $100k in debt), rent, and health care he was driving for Uber. A lot. He estimated that he spent more than 60 hours a week behind the wheel. This allowed him to pay his bills, but not to build up any real savings.
To which I say good for him, and for Uber. This is a guy who could be sitting around waiting for the dream job he’d gone to school for, collecting unemployment, defaulting on his loans, and/or dropping out of the labor force for good. Instead, he was working hard at a job that was available.
The days when high-paying factory jobs were available to anyone willing to work hard are long gone. My driver’s job existed because a small group of venture-backed entrepreneurs created a technology platform that matched up cars and drivers with people who were willing to pay for a ride. Most cars are chronically underutilized and in a time of high unemployment, so are too many people. Uber’s founders came up with a clever way to put them to work, and to do so while maintaining an enviable service and safety record.
I feel a deep urge to call bullshit on the author’s neoliberal perspective on how Uber supports our unemployed brothers and sisters during this time of economic transition.
I have often been one to tout the collaborative economy as an opportunity for cities to build micro-entrepreneurship and expanded employment opportunities, but I feel uncomfortable by the way he’s framed it. And am wondering how to reconcile.
I agree that the “peer economy,” as he calls it, has many benefits in terms of temporary employment for those saddled with enormous student loan debt and no hope of securing work in their field of expertise. But in celebrating the collaborative economy as a gift to those folks by the venture capital system, he loses me.
It’s hard not to reflect on the Robber barons or the d’Medicis and their contributions to the arts - on the backs of all those exploited by the systems that created their wealth, including the earth. Art = good. Means to patronizing, collecting and preserving art = bad.
It’s hard not to wonder what’s to become of the more vulnerable class of folks who’ve been driving taxis to solve very similar challenges.
I’m really starting to feel a sense of urgency for those of us in the business of supporting/fostering/developing the collaborative economy (holla, Share Vancouver!) to push harder to elevate public discourse beyond the novelty of Airbnb, Uber and the monster capital being raised to exploit the opportunities presented by collaborative consumption.
More democratic models of generating startup capitol and revenue are to the future of the collaborative economy space. Co-ops, crowdfunding and community investment funding – when we talk about the collaborative economy and its potential to better our lives, and the future of our world, these are the models that will propel us forward.
Of course there’s a place for the big guys – and their deep pockets. They’re mainstreaming the concept of sharing, borrowing and connecting peer-to-peer. But we can’t let them win the battle to define the space.
Please weigh in.