David Horsey risks losing his hipster card by pointing out that Uber is just one more example of the gulf between workers and owners in the current economy, or, in his words, "a model that exemplifies an emerging new economy in which a few people get very rich and everyone else is a freelancer struggling to patch together a living wage."
I would join in his disclaimer that we are both independent contractors, but that we each have specific skills that make it work. And that knowing how to drive a car does not put you in a niche with a whole lot of bargaining power.
Horsey's essay draws upon a story in the LA Times by Sandra Vahtel, a freelance copy editor who tried being an Uber and Lyft driver and discovered there was a lot of blue sky in their promises and, in particular, in the claims of Big Money and good incentives.
Click and read them both; I would simply be repeating here, and, if you've been around the barn twice, there's nothing in them that you didn't know.
I'm not insensitive to the need for income and the fact that it can make you take on jobs you didn't really want.
Vahtel's description of a $300 bonus that sounded promising but proved very hard to achieve reminded me of selling Kirby vacuum cleaners, because during the brief period I did that, they offered a trip to Las Vegas to all sales people who hit a particular goal. And who all came back shorn and broke and needing to get back out and pound doors.
It's not so much "dishonest" as "exploitive" and the question is, "What's so hip about being suckered?"
But let's assume everything is on the up-and-up, and the only difference between you and a licensed cabby is that you are making less money, have no employee rights and are taking food out of his children's mouths.
It changes the question into "What's so hip about being a scab?"
I'm well aware of what it means to need a job, to need income, and I've joked here about some of the crappy jobs I took, temporarily, to get by.
But when the Great Books of the Western World told me to put a code in a credit application to indicate whether a potential purchaser was white or non-white, I quit, and later testified against them in front of the Federal Trade Commission.
Funny thing there being that the FTC wasn't after them for that, but simply for the raft of lies they told employees about the potential for the job, and the dishonesty with which they sold the books well before they got down to who qualified for credit.
(This was 40 years ago. We've since fixed the system and now we don't interfere with business the way we used to.)
In any case, you need to draw a line, and the level of desperation only justifies so much ethical compromise.
Horsey describes the "gig economy" well:
The Uber and Lyft model grows out of the prevalent practice in high-tech startups. A small group of founding entrepreneurs come up with a novel way to get rich, then build their companies on the backs of under-compensated, overworked employees who are easily replaceable. They give their workers ping-pong tables and free snacks, but take away their rights to organize for better pay, benefits or job security.
It's not that it's dishonest, except in the sense of portraying it as a hip thing we're all part of. As the cartoon notes, there is a substantial gulf between "us" and "them," and, if you think you're part of the business, you're right: You're a tiny, insignificant, replaceable cog.
And you're a cog who is competing with other cogs, undercutting their ability to make a decent living.
Perhaps you're desperate, yes. But I've seen desperate, and I respect desperate.
How desperate is a person who's got a smartphone, decent clothes and a nice enough car to survive in ride-sharing?
We've established what you are. We're just dickering over your price.
I mean, if Uber and Lyft help people avoid riding with those unpleasant immigrants who drive cabs, wouldn't it also be a great service to help the mine owners avoid dealing with those dusty, complaining miners?
Hey, we've all got to make a living somehow.